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‘A Collective Sigh’: Clerical and Technical Union Approves Contract, Ending Second-Longest Negotiations in Union History

Members of the Harvard Union of Clerical and Technical Workers picket in front of Massachusetts Hall in May.
Members of the Harvard Union of Clerical and Technical Workers picket in front of Massachusetts Hall in May. By Julian J. Giordano
By Cam E. Kettles and Julia A. Maciejak, Crimson Staff Writers

Harvard’s clerical and technical workers union voted 3,762 to 466 on June 1 to ratify their contract with the University, ending the second-longest contract standoff in the union's history.

The vote saw high participation, with 85 percent of the approximately 5,000 members of the Harvard Union of Clerical and Technical Workers taking part in the election and 89 percent of those voting to approve the contract.

The contract — tentatively agreed upon May 11 — includes a $1,400 bonus and four raises over the course of four years starting retroactively on Oct. 1, 2022.

The typical member with one year of service making $64,000 will receive a 5.9 percent raise effective Oct. 1, 2022, and three raises of 4.7 percent, 3.8 percent, and 3.5 percent from July 1, 2023, through 2025.

Members began to see the negotiated raise reflected in their paycheck on June 16, when they also received their $1,400 bonus.

“There is a huge sense of relief, and I am definitely relieved that it’s over,” said Jenn Harrington, a HUCTW member who has worked at Harvard University Press for more than 20 years.

The contract ratification vote concludes a 13-month process to negotiate the contract, extending eight months past the September 30 expiration of HUCTW’s last one-year contract.

Before June 16, when members began to see the negotiated raise reflected in their paychecks, they had not received a raise in more than a year and a half, despite record-high inflation.

“This year felt really acrimonious in ways that disappointed me,” said Leslie MacPherson, a 30-year union member. “We’re all about negotiating and talking and I felt like [University] administration was digging in their heels.”

The 2022-23 negotiations have been the second-longest cycle past deadline in the union’s history, falling just one month shy of the union’s 2013 negotiations, which stalled over compensation and healthcare.

“I’ve been through a number of very contentious contract negotiation cycles,” said Katie Genovese, a HUCTW area representative for the Department of Continuing Education. “I have never experienced anything like this that went on so long or felt so contentious.”

“I feel like it’s a strong raise package,” she added.

“The University is pleased to have reached this long-term contract agreement with our HUCTW partners addressing an array of economic and non-economic priorities, and to see it ratified by an affirmative vote of nearly 90 percent,” University spokesperson Jason A. Newton wrote in an emailed statement.

Newton declined to comment on the University’s approach to negotiating.

‘The Big Sticking Point’

While the contract includes many different agreements, the negotiations themselves were primarily stalled over compensation.

“Pay was obviously the big sticking point,” HUCTW President Carrie E. Barbash said.

While inflation has averaged 1.88 percent over the last decade, the annual inflation rate was 8 percent in 2022, the highest in 40 years. Most economists expect inflation to go down over the next year.

“The high inflation numbers made it especially challenging because it was like we were talking about numbers that none of us had really seen in our working lives,” Barbash said.

Not including the $1,400 bonus, the average member’s salary will increase by 19 percent over the life of the contract.

The contract’s pay program varies across salary levels, as the lowest-paid members will receive higher raises throughout the duration of the contract. Those making $40,000 will receive a 6.9 percent raise effective Oct. 1, 2022 — 1.4 percent higher than what those making $80,000 will receive.

“The thing that is the most meaningful to me, actually, is the fact that people at the lower end of the pay scale get a bigger bump,” said Genoa Polumbo, a union member who has worked at Harvard for 15 years.

“I think a contract is a compromise, and no one is going to get exactly what they started out wanting,” Polumbo added.

Desiree Goodwin, who voted against ratifying the contract, said the union should “always be pushing” for a better deal, but that the contract was “actually pretty good.”

Barbash wrote in a statement that she understands “why some folks might be frustrated it’s not more,” though added in an interview that she believes “members will come out ahead of inflation over the life of the contract.”

Clerical and technical workers picket Massachusetts Hall in February amid a contract standoff.
Clerical and technical workers picket Massachusetts Hall in February amid a contract standoff. By Julian J. Giordano

The contract also includes specific language regarding remote work which Barbash said is “almost entirely new.”

Requests for remote or hybrid work will now be considered based on “individual job responsibilities” and the needs of their “work unit, department, or school.” Barbash said the contract will mean there are fewer “sweeping department-wide policies.”

Under the new contract, hybrid and fully remote work schedules have been included as flexible schedule options.

The contract language also clarifies that temporary, less than half-time, and occasional high-hour employees — who are not included in the bargaining unit — should be “exceptional and strictly limited.” For example, with few exceptions, temporary workers can only be hired to work for 13 weeks or less.

Lamont Library assistant and union area representative Geoffrey P. Carens called the provision one of the “worst things” about the contract. They argued it unfairly prevents temporary workers from accessing union benefits.

“Our union, unfortunately, is allowing Harvard to expand contingent employment,” Carens said.

Barbash said that the provision actually “protects unionized jobs” that already exist and has led to “the hiring of more unionized work in other areas.”

“It kind of clarifies what kinds of jobs can be these kinds of intense short-term jobs versus ongoing jobs,” Barbash said.

‘Really Unhappy Chatter Around’

Throughout the process, Carens and a group of HUCTW members have publicly urged the union to take a more aggressive approach to negotiating.

The group of roughly 200 — called the HUCTW Rank and File Movement — had advocated for the creation of a strike fund and an increase in the frequency of union membership meetings.

“I think that there are a number of things in the union that could be done in a more democratic fashion so we can actually determine what the union members as a whole want to do,” HUCTW member Christopher D. Doty said.

HUCTW member Amber Young described the HUCTW Rank and File Movement as a “very small, very specific group who has been talking about this for like 30 years, yet they never bring any ideas to the table.”

“Having a lot of sort of really unhappy chatter around was very stressful,” Genovese said.

“I don’t think most people want to strike,” Genovese added.

Members of the Harvard Union of Clerical and Technical Workers take part in an informational picket amid the contract negotiations.
Members of the Harvard Union of Clerical and Technical Workers take part in an informational picket amid the contract negotiations. By Lucy H. Vuong

But Carens said that the movement is simply fostering a more “active discussion of union affairs.”

“We always support all the official union actions, but we have the right to demand a stronger approach,” they said.

The group organized a campaign against the tentative contract and encouraged members to vote against it.

In an email to members encouraging them to vote against ratification, Liz C. Hoveland ’22 wrote that “a substantial NO vote will express to our elected officials and the university that we are dissatisfied.”

After the vote passed with support from 89 percent of voters, Carens still declared victory, writing, “Congrats to everybody who took a stand against raises below inflation, toothless provisions and super-exploitation of contingent workers. To anybody who voted Yes: We warned you lol.”

Barbash, the HUCTW president, said ratification votes are “usually in the low to mid 90s.”

MacPherson, a longtime HUCTW member, said she “was surprised at how many people they got to downvote it, but my hunch is that it’s people who haven’t been around as long,” MacPherson said.

The Wait

Many members had to make financial sacrifices to hold out until the contract was ratified.

“When we had a resolution presented to us by the union, there was a collective sigh,” Harrington said.

Young, who voted to ratify the contract, said she would have been able to keep up with bills on time if negotiations had ended sooner.

“My electric bill and my gas bill combined are almost like $3,000. Because I’ve been living on the same paycheck that I have been for basically like two years now while everything else is getting more expensive,” Young said.

“No, I don’t think the wait was worth it. No, I don’t blame the union,” she added.

Among others that voted for the contract, there were varying degrees of support for the raise package.

“I thought the union did a very good job and they did what they could,” Harrington said. “I definitely would have waited a little longer, but again, I was very aware that things were super hard for people making less money than me,” she added.

The union started organizing weekly picketing events outside Massachusetts Hall in February. The pickets continued up until the day the tentative agreement was reached.

During the negotiations, Harvard Vice President for Human Resources Manuel Cuevas-Trisán sent HUCTW members two emails over the course of the negotiations, once in February and again in April.

Both emails laid out raises and some other conditions the University already agreed to. The school’s raise proposal was based on “comparative market factors, as well as the total compensation and benefits package and low attrition rates,” the February email read.

The emails — Harvard’s only official public communication with employees about the negotiations — evoked anger among HUCTW members.

“It kind of presented a story where it was the union side that was causing issues and that Harvard was being really fair,” Harrington said.

“It was a little insulting to our intelligence,” Genovese said.

Harvard's Labor and Employee Relations office is located at 124 Mount Auburn Street in Cambridge.
Harvard's Labor and Employee Relations office is located at 124 Mount Auburn Street in Cambridge. By Angela Dela Cruz

Three weeks after Cuevas-Trisán’s second email, HUCTW announced a rally to take place on May 24, a day before Harvard’s 372nd Commencement.

While the University and union came to a tentative agreement before the rally could take place, many union members believe the pressure of a Commencement rally may have been the final push.

“Harvard found a way to reach an agreement because they didn’t want any activity of that manner in front of parents,” said Harrington.

Newton, the University spokesperson, also declined to comment on the planned rally’s impact.

“It just made me feel bad, I guess,” Harrington said of the University’s negotiating tactics. “I work for an organization who I truly believe in the mission, and it didn’t seem like they cared.”

‘Soul Searching’

Many HUCTW members say the arduous negotiations won’t soon be forgotten.

MacPherson, who has worked at Harvard since 1989, said she feels “the last few contract negotiations have gotten increasingly acrimonious.”

“I hate to say it, but once you get into a pattern of ‘We’re gonna fight this out tooth and nail,’ then things don’t generally soften out after that,” MacPherson said.

“I expect it to be just as hard if not harder next time, which makes me sad to be saying that, but it’s just the truth,” she added.

HUCTW’s latest contract will be in effect until June 30, 2026. Bill Jaeger, HUCTW’s executive director, said he hopes the union and management representatives will collectively evaluate the negotiations in the next few years to determine “how we could have a higher quality process the next time around."

“There’s gonna have to be soul searching,” Jaeger added.

Correction: July 7, 2023

A previous of this article incorrectly stated that no temporary workers can be hired for more than 13 weeks. In fact, exceptions to this policy allow for longer temporary employment where specially approved.

—Staff writer Cam E. Kettles can be reached at cam.kettles@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @cam_kettles.

—Staff writer Julia A. Maciejak can be reached at julia.maciejak@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @maciejak_a.

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