More than 1,400 people have signed a petition calling on Securitas to continue the employment of Mike Grant, a security guard at Leverett House, one of Harvard’s undergraduate residences.
After a disagreement with Leverett Building Manager Mohamed Zaker in late April, Grant stood at a disciplinary hearing on May 5. Grant, an employee of Securitas — an international security services firm which employs security guards at Harvard — answered questions from Securitas area managers Alonzo B. Herring and Angela Kinyua during the hearing.
“They came from every angle they could to find just cause to terminate Mike Grant but Mike has a chance to beat it but has to be careful,” Grant’s union shop steward Michael A. Nowiszewski wrote in a statement.
The petition states that Grant is “a boon to the community” and did “nothing wrong,” citing an article published in The Crimson’s Fifteen Minutes magazine about the appreciation students have for Grant and his kindness.
“We stand together in support of an inclusive and kind community at Harvard, that should not tolerate abuse of third party contractors, no matter who their boss is,” the petition reads.
Securitas did not respond to multiple requests for comment, and Harvard spokesperson Jason A. Newton declined to comment on Grant’s case.
Grant is awaiting a decision on his case.
On Friday, April 28, Leverett residents Jack R. Walker ’24 and Hayden Teeter ’24 wanted to have a barbecue in the House courtyard.
After receiving permission from Grant, Walker took their grill out of storage and began to set it up.
Grant then got a call from Zaker, the Leverett building manager, instructing him to tell the students they are not allowed to grill on Leverett property. According to Grant, Zaker told him the Leverett faculty deans did not want the students to use the grill. Teeter and Walker offered to move the barbecue to the river, where they would no longer be on Leverett property. Grant agreed.
Zaker denies telling Grant the faculty deans did not want the students to use the grill but said he instructed Grant to call the tutor on call, who makes decisions about whether students can hold events. Grant did not call.
According to Grant, Zaker then told him a second time that the students cannot use the grill anywhere because Zaker said the grill belongs to Leverett and cannot leave the House grounds. Zaker then told him to put the grill in storage, saying he didn’t want the students to start the fire in the courtyard.
Because the grill was outside last year and taken into storage, Zaker said he assumed it was used for Leverett’s House Committee, adding that he instructed Grant to tell the students to check with him the following Monday.
“So I went over and said, ‘Hey guys, unfortunately you won’t be able to use it at all. You know, the faculty dean and the building manager are insisting that I take it and put it into storage,’” Grant recalled.
Walker and Teeter explained to Grant that it was not, in fact, a Leverett grill. Walker had purchased the grill one year prior and showed Grant a purchase receipt on his phone.
“So I call [Zaker] back and I say, ‘Hey, the students actually have a receipt for the grill. It’s actually their grill,’” Grant said. “I said, ‘I actually do remember the student had the grill last year and it was put into storage.’”
According to Grant, Zaker then insisted the grill belongs to Leverett and that the students were lying. The two got into an argument over the phone and at one point, Zaker said, “What do I even have you there for if you can’t even do your job? This is why you’re a guard. This is why you’re just a guard,” according to Grant.
Grant provided a similar report of events to Securitas Account Manager for the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Robert M. Sabater, according to documents obtained by The Crimson.
Grant insisted he could not take the grill from Walker and Teeter.
“If I did take the grill, oh yeah I’d be out of here,” Grant said. “They would have sent me home that same day. And nobody would have ever seen me or heard about me again.”
Zaker said he told Grant that if the grill was not Leverett’s, the students could not store it in the house.
Zaker said he then instructed another Leverett employee, custodian Ever W. Martinez, to take the grill from the students, but Martinez decided not to confiscate the grill after seeing Walker’s receipt, according to Walker and Teeter.
Grant and Zaker then spoke on the phone for a third time, getting into another heated argument during which Grant said he told Zaker, “I don’t appreciate your tone of voice or the way you’re trying to belittle me.”
Zaker said Grant “raised his voice and was aggravated.”
“I don’t want any altercations. I don’t like confrontation,” Grant said. After hearing people laugh on Zaker’s side, Grant hung up.
“From a student perspective, he was doing what he should. One, not taking the grill from people who actually owned it and two, not raising his voice,” Walker said.
Walker and Teeter kept the grill and went to the river as they had originally agreed to do.
Leverett Faculty Deans Daniel G. Deschler and Eileen E. Reynolds ’86 wrote a joint email to Walker later that day about what they described as a “misunderstanding today concerning Grilling In the Leverett Courtyards.”
“When informed of this occurring today, we asked that you be informed that it was not allowed and to relocate if you wished to grill,” they wrote. “We did not ask that your grill be confiscated. We apologize for this misunderstanding and will speak with involved parties.”
Harvard spokesperson Jonathan Palumbo wrote in an email to The Crimson that the deans did not have a comment on Grant’s situation.
That same day, Grant wrote an email to Leverett faculty deans about what had happened, while Zaker contacted Grant’s supervisor, Sabater. Grant was then informed of a disciplinary hearing scheduled for May 5 at Securitas’ Cambridge office.
While Grant had called the union that represents Securitas guards, Service Employees International Union Local 32BJ, he said they told him a representative could not attend the meeting with him on such short notice. Instead, union shop steward Michael Nowiszewski went with Grant to his May 5 meeting.
“The union has literally done nothing for him to date despite him asking for their help,” Nowiszewski wrote in a statement.
Frank Soults, the spokesperson for 32BJ SEIU, and Roxana Rivera, assistant to the 32BJ SEIU president, did not respond to a request for comment about the union’s response.
At the meeting with area managers Herring and Kinyua, Grant said Securitas managers looked at his incident report and tried to “pick it apart and find any and every little thing that they can possibly use against me. ‘Oh did you say this? Oh you said this? Did you disrespect him?’”
“Our Human Resources Department, they don’t back us,” Grant said. “Their main priority is, ‘Harvard is our client and we’re going to do everything in our power to make Harvard happy.’”
Harvard contracts security guards through Securitas, a third-party contractor. 32BJ SEIU negotiates directly with Harvard, although Securitas employs individual guards.
Neither Herring, Kinyua, nor Securitas Area Vice President for Harvard Christopher Connolly responded to repeated requests for comment for this article.
According to Nowiszewski, the co-employer relationship makes it difficult for guards to know whether they should listen to managers from Harvard or Securitas.
“It’s stressful to walk a tight rope between ‘do they like me?’ and doing what 12+ bosses with competing incentives above you want done simultaneously at the houses,” Nowiszewski wrote. “Who is the employer? Who is the boss?”
On May 3, Walker wrote to Leverett administrators about a number of grievances with Leverett management, including the incident involving their grill.
A week later, Harvard Associate Director of Residential Facilities Nancy Hodge wrote that “while I am not able to share information about the specific HR processes that we follow, I can let you know that I have worked with Mohamed to understand more thoroughly what happened in each of the instances you mentioned below, and to identify ways to improve the communication and processes where necessary.”
Since the May 5 meeting, Grant has not been contacted by Securitas about the status of his case or whether he will retain employment. Both Grant and Nowiszewski said his job is still at risk.
In a May 7 email to Leverett residents, Deschler and Reynolds wrote that they “have been reassured that Mike’s job is not at risk because of the incident.”
Grant, however, wrote in a May 18 email to The Crimson that his current status is uncertain and that it “seems likely” that Securitas will wait until Commencement before acting.
“Once the students have departed, there is a possibility that they will attempt to relocate me to a different site, potentially outside of Harvard,” he wrote.
Regardless of the outcome of his case, Grant said he felt overwhelmed by “the love and support” that he has received from students.
“I’m just so thankful, regardless of which way this goes,” Grant said. “I truly have so much love in my heart for these students.”
—Staff writer Cam E. Kettles can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @cam_kettles.