Union Rebounds After Cuts

At 64, she was nearing retirement after 19 years of working at Harvard. Having lost her husband just two years earlier, her job was the only constant in her life.

“My husband passed away, suddenly, unexpectedly in August of 2007,” a former Harvard employee says. “The job was the only thing that didn’t change dramatically in my life.”

But on the morning of June 30, 2009, the Harvard Athletic Department administrative assistant who wished to remain anonymous for this article was told she would be let go.

She was one of about 100 members of the Harvard Union of Clerical and Technical Workers to be laid off.

A week earlier, Harvard had announced that it would lay off 275 employees from across the University following a tumultuous semester of administering cuts to student life and capital projects as well as an early retirement incentive program for staff.


As a result of negotiations with the University, HUCTW members whose jobs were eliminated would be given priority if they chose to apply for other open positions at Harvard.

Of the 80 union members seeking re-employment, roughly 70 percent were hired back.

But in spite of the high rate of re-employment thus far, HUCTW director Bill Jaeger says the union has yet to place the several dozen union workers searching for jobs at the University. “That’s been frustrating in some cases,” Jaeger says.

Much of the difficulty in placing union members who were laid-off in available positions stems from the decentralized hiring process. Union members seeking reemployment meet individually with their union representative and the human resources department at the school that originally hired them to find opportunities elsewhere at the University.

“There are a lot of distant and dark corners in the whole institution,” Jaeger says.

But the former athletic department administrative assistant was fortunate. She received an offer from Harvard in Dec. 2009, but ultimately chose not to accept the job, stating that she would likely retire in a few years.

“Had I been five years younger, I would have taken that job,” she says. “[HUCTW] provided all the tools and plus that anyone would need on a job search.”


Laverne Martinez had just been hired by the Student Receivables Office when she was told that she would be the only member of her team to be let go.

“At my very first meeting, they told us they were making cuts,” Martinez, a union member, says. “I mean, I was the newest employee.”

Martinez had been working at the University Information Systems office since 2001 until she was diagnosed with cancer in 2007.

Two years later, Martinez returned to Harvard and took a term-time job at Harvard Law School before finding a more permanent position at the Student Receivables Office.

But before she had a chance to settle in, Martinez was hit by the first round of layoffs.

The very next week, she met with her union representative, Joie Gelband, who helped her land a job at the Office for Sponsored Programs just five months later.

“I had a very positive experience, and it’s due to the power team that I had, the people I had to work with,” Martinez says. “I was very fortunate to have Joie.”

Like Martinez, Jerome J. Leslie—who was working as an editorial assistant at Harvard Medical School’s Harvard Health Publications—credited the University for its efforts to support those who had been laid off.

“They offered a lot of opportunities for training development,” Leslie recalls. “I never felt like I wasn’t being watched and looked after.”

Leslie had already been considering taking a job that required more technical skills and offered to step down after his department announced it would be making significant cuts to staff.

The turn of events, he says, allowed him to take web design and IT support classes before applying for a new job.

By October, Leslie landed a job with Harvard University Press as an IT assistant, having only started the interview process in August. “I was very motivated myself to make this change happen, to get myself back in employment,” Leslie says. “I was supported from moment one.”

While Martinez and Leslie both describe their experience as ultimately positive, they both acknowledge that there are many who have been less fortunate.

“I was in a better situation than people who were older,” Martinez says. “It was really tough for some of them to get another position.”

—Staff writer Sofia E. Groopman can be reached at


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