Harvard University is one of the largest employers in Massachusetts, with over 18,000 employees. Thousands of Harvard’s workers are “contingent” and don’t have benefits such as health insurance or paid time off. The Harvard Union of Clerical and Technical Workers (HUCTW) is the university’s largest union, with around 5,000 members. HU’s continuing ability to exploit contingent workers, a subject of contract negotiations with HUCTW, arguably has a negative effect on wages and living conditions in the whole region. What union members receive in their contract also helps set the standard for campus workers across the area higher education sector.
Members of HUCTW vote on a contract proposal Dec 4. As an elected union representative with 25+ years’ experience, I recommend union members vote No! The proposal features low raises and strips protective language out of our contract. It will empower bosses to harass workers who are sick and lay us off faster. A huge new loophole with respect to contingent employees will help deprive them of the health insurance, paid time off, and other union benefits they need.
Harvard can well afford to give its workers a fair deal. The Harvard Medical School just received a $200 million dollar gift, the largest in its history. The university’s capital campaign recently amassed nearly $10 billion—and the campaign’s goal was $6.5 billion! The richest school in the world, Harvard enjoys a massive endowment, over $37 billion.
Meanwhile, the Boston area remains unaffordable for many campus workers. Boston rents increased 5.3 percent on average for a one-bedroom apartment, and 6.3 percent for a two-bedroom unit since last year. If the contract is ratified, many union members will receive raises under 3 percent for the period from Oct 1, 2018, to Sept 30, 2019, the first year covered by the new agreement. It’s estimated that a worker would need to earn $88,967 to live comfortably in Boston. The average HUCTW member earns around $30,000 less than that, and the low raises in all three years of our contract mean we will continue to lose ground. Contingent employees will do far worse.
This contract was supposed to rein in Harvard’s exploitation of contingent workers, who include “less-than-halftime” or “LHT” employees who work fewer than 14 hours per week, and “temp” employees who are hired for jobs that last under three months. Under certain conditions contingent jobs are supposed to be turned into union positions with benefits. However, an enormous loophole has been inserted into the proposed union contract, which gives Harvard managers license to change the status of a worker from temp to LHT, or vice versa, rather than converting the position to a union job. This new provision means more university employees will labor at jobs that don’t even provide any meaningful benefits or even a single day off with pay.
Entire sections of the contract have been rewritten for the benefit of Harvard bosses. Protective language is being cut out and dangerous new provisions inserted. Slated for removal is one of the few provisions that helps older workers when they are ill. A section of the contract under sick pay is newly headed, “When Medical Evidence May Be Required.” Four situations are listed where management can demand medical evidence if union members dare to take sick time. A new provision endangers workers who may need to be out sick for longer periods. The fact that these points will be enshrined in our contract means that more sick union members will face harassment and demands for medical documentation. With respect to discipline, some modestly protective language is to be removed. A new provision even encourages bosses to issue verbal warnings, which can set the stage for more serious disciplinary action.
When Harvard wants to lay off a union member, management has to inform the union and discuss the supposed reasons for ending the job. The new contract will state that these discussions will be ended “as efficiently and expeditiously as possible,” apparently so bosses can get back to the important business of separating workers from their salaries. There is no reason why union members should vote for a contract that shortchanges and threatens us, and inflicts further harm on our contingent co-workers. I encourage HUCTW members to reject the proposal, and tell Harvard that we deserve better! Our vote will affect working standards and conditions in the Boston area and beyond.