Union Contract Negotiations Set to Begin

It is a truism of Harvard that when spring comes, protesters emerge from their winter hibernations to fill the Yard with the sounds of opposition. And for the past 17 years, supporters of a clerical workers union have joined the spring ritual in their efforts to gain administrative recognition.

But this month the conflict will move to a different arena. No longer will supporters of a union for the University's 3400 support staff stage rallies and petition drives. Rather, representatives of the newly recognized Harvard Union of Clerical and Technical Workers (HUCTW) will retire to the boardroom with Harvard administrators to hammer out the union's first official contract.

Since its formal recognition last November, the union has been preparing for the upcoming contract negotiations. Next week the support staff will elect 70 or more representatives for the negotiations; University officials say Harvard has not yet chosen a formal negotiating team. Both sides say they hope negotiations will start by the end of February.

Yet the challenges that the new union faces are many. In fact, labor experts say that negotiating a first contract can be as difficult as winning a union election. They warn that if the University and HUCTW cannot negotiate a successful first contract within six months, there may be danger of a strike.

Already, some skeptics say they question HUCTW's ability to negotiate a contract that will address all of the issues the union organized around in winning support from the 83 percent female work force.


Some observers are also concerned that the enormous diversity of the 3400-member support staff, whose membership includes library employees, lab research assistants, University mail-deliverers, museum staff and dozens of other jobs, may make a first contract harder to negotiate.

HUCTW representatives, however, say they have drafted a contract proposal that seeks to meet the needs of the union's diverse constituency.

The union's contract proposal, according to long-time organizer Marie Manna, "deals with the salary structure and raise structure, health and dental insurance, pensions, a tuition assistance plan, job descriptions and reclassifications, as well as employee participation in decisions that affect them and their jobs directly."

In the past two months, HUCTW and University officials have worked to make the contract negotiations easier. An informal transition team, established to ease the way into formal discussions, met regularly throughout December and January. Both University and union representatives say the meetings have improved relations, which had been strained after the long struggle for unionization.

"I have been very well pleased by the tenor of our discussions so far," Taylor says. "They have been both frank and candid. I am very optimistic about this relationship. Not that we won't disagree, that's inevitable."

HUCTW and the University have also created a four-member joint committee to address all worker complaints while the contract negotiations take place. For the union, the grievance board is a first step in its plans to give workers more control over their jobs by decentralizing Harvard decision making.

Manna, who is a member of the four-member board, said that it was working out well. "We are doing our best to encourage people to resolve things on a local level," she said.

But whatever proposals end up on the table when the two sides meet later this month, both union and University representatives say they hope to negotiate a first contract quickly.

"Both sides hope not to have a really protracted negotiation," said Anne H. Taylor, director of the University's Human Resources office. "Whether we could achieve that or not, we shall see."

Recommended Articles