Labor's Odd Couple Forges a Contract Compromise

They were an unlikely pair: a 34-year-old union activist who has made a career out of challenging the University and the venerable John T. Dunlop, a former secretary of labor and Harvard dean of the faculty.

But together Kris Rondeau, head of the fledgling Harvard Union of Clerical and Technical Workers (HUCTW), and Dunlop, the University's chief negotiator, spent four months last winter and spring closeted in contract negotiations for the University's support staff workers.

When the final product was released in June, the reviews were positive, if cautious. Most support staff said Rondeau and Dunlop had moved beyond the often bitter climate of labor relations over the past few years to produce a contract that would yield better benefits and salary for the University's clerical and technical workers.

The three-year contract, which went into effect July 1, featured a host of financial and administrative changes for Harvard support staff. They include:

*Across-the-board raises of between 20 and 30 percent


*A substantial increase in minimum pensions

*Plans for a "model child care center" and increased child care subsidies

*Paid short-term disability leave and 85 percent subsidized health insurance

Administrative reorganization called for in the contract includes a new grievance procedure and a vaguely worded statement that says employee "problems will be discussed on a local level in problem-solving teams."

Union supporters ratified the contract by a vote of 1151-98 days after the agreement was reached. And the two chief negotiators, joined by union contract administrator Marie Manna and a host of lawyers, spent the rest of the summer ironing out the final language of the document.

Manna, who also sits on the "Gang of Eight" that is now handling employee grievances, says the contract will be finalized and signed "within the next couple of weeks."

After that, Harvard and its newest, most highly publicized union will face the difficult task of translating the contract's legal jargon into the day-to-day language of the workplace. Says Manna, "Some of the administrative details haven't been worked out yet. We're not sure exactly how everything will work."

And meanwhile, the union will finish the process of organizing that was started 18 years ago. Once elections on the union's by-laws and constitution--slated for later this month--and a vote on the union leadership--to be held in October--are finished, HUCTW can officially, finally law claim to its place at Harvard.