Workers and students demand Harvard rehire Mayli Shing
On Oct 5, just before new Harvard President Lawrence Bacow was inaugurated, scores of union activists, students, and concerned community members demonstrated to demand that the university rehire Mayli Shing. Shing, a member of the Harvard Union of Clerical and Technical Workers, was fired in February after complaining of sexual harassment and racial discrimination by her supervisor.
Harvard’s excuse for terminating Shing was that she was allegedly in her office 30 minutes before her shift began. It’s obviously not even an offense—Shing had previously been celebrated on at least two performance evaluations for her early arrivals. The supervisor wrote, “Mayli is always in work before her regular hours. She is extremely reliable.”
However, after she reported that her boss acted inappropriately towards her and discriminated against her for racist reasons, the supervisor was permitted to retaliate against Shing and to drive her out of her job in revenge for her truthful complaints. Incredibly, merely arriving at work slightly early became the basis for retaliatory discipline against Shing, a worker with more than 10 years of experience in her position.
Following Shing’s complaints that her supervisor was harassing and stalking her, he began issuing discipline against her on flimsy pretexts. Then, in May of 2017, Shing’s 35-hour work week was slashed to 17.5 hours, in which time she was expected to perform almost all the same job duties as before. Just one week after the cut in hours, the boss issued a formal disciplinary warning against Shing for not completing particular tasks by arbitrary deadlines, in the context of her trying to do her work twice as fast as previously.
More retaliatory written warnings followed; on two occasions, Shing’s alleged arrival at work 15 minutes before her shift was the basis for formal discipline. When Mayli asked why she alone was not permitted in the office just before her shift began, she says the supervisor mocked her for being Chinese, stating, “You can’t just hang around playing pingpong, Mayli.” When she complained about the racist slur, a senior manager accused her of lying. Less than a month later, Shing was terminated.
The Oct 5 protest marked the fourth time Shing’s supporters have picketed and demanded justice. The case is headed for the highest stage of her union’s grievance procedure, which could result in her getting a new job, with a new supervisor and full back pay. In the meantime, Harvard has continued to show extreme vindictiveness. The university even prevented the first-generation immigrant single mother of two from receiving unemployment benefits from her termination in February through July.
After the state Department of Unemployment Assistance finally awarded Shing benefits, Harvard appealed and is currently trying to claw back the money that Shing urgently needs to pay her bills. The university has also refused to consider any resolution that would allow Shing to return to employment at Harvard.
In the face of this response, at least 10 campus groups sent affiliates to the protest, including the Harvard No Layoffs Campaign, the Harvard TPS Coalition, the Time’s Up Committee of the Harvard Graduate Students Union, the Student Labor Action Movement, and Our Harvard Can Do Better, an organization dedicated to dismantling rape culture on Harvard’s campus. Priya Kukreja, a member of Harvard College’s Reproductive Justice Advocacy Group, summed up the feelings of attendees.
“Time is up on retaliating against survivors who come forward,” Kukreja said. “We are here to support Mayli. We are here to refuse allowing another moment of injustice to be swept under the rug of institutional abuse and unchecked power.”
Geoff Carens is a union rep for the Harvard Union of Clerical and Technical Workers.