Talk of the Union: Learning From the Past

Crippled by mass layoffs last summer, the Harvard Union of Clerical Technical Workers enters this year’s round of contract negotiations with squared shoulders.

Last year was worse than staff had imagined—275 employees lost their jobs, 100 of whom were HUCTW members.

The painful memories have not yet subsided, but Harvard staff are confident in improved labor relations, believing that the University’s financial situation has now stabilized.

By June 10, the union expects to reach an agreement on what will likely be a three-year contract, possibly more inclusive than in previous years.

Though the economic climate is still uncertain—the Faculty of Arts and Sciences has yet to close a budget deficit of at least $35 million—the union is not only pushing hard to mitigate the impact of possible budget cuts but also exploring the potential for a salary raise.


“It will be a year since members of our union have seen any kind of salary increase, and so that subject gets a lot of urgent attention,” HUCTW Director Bill Jaeger says.


Last year’s layoffs weren’t exactly unexpected. But many staffers say they were caught off guard when the layoffs struck their ranks.

“I remember thinking ‘Oh my God, this isn’t happening to me,’” says one Harvard employee who was laid off her first week on the job last spring and who wished to remain anonymous.

“I actually was pretty surprised last year with the number of layoffs that happened, and that was disappointing,” says Laura M. Johnson, a history department staff assistant who has worked at Harvard for 25 years. “I didn’t really see it coming. It was pretty shocking to me.”

Though Jaeger says he does not expect another round of cuts on the same scale, the union is taking measures to ensure that layoffs do not happen as abruptly and do not impact workers as adversely as last year.

“It’s a really rough generalization, and it’s a mix of things that happened last year in terms of layoffs, but we were overall maybe 70 percent satisfied by our union and management efforts to save jobs and to keep people working at Harvard if they were laid off,” Jaeger says. “We want to try to find ways to change policies and strengthen programs to make that number even higher.”

One of HUCTW’s primary concerns is to give their members a more prominent voice in the decision-making process of their divisions.

According to Article I of the current HUCTW contract with the University, union workers have the right to be part of “joint councils” that make planning decisions in the workplace.

“Our members are saying in a clear loud way, ‘We want to be involved. We want to be heard. We want to help find the right solutions,’” Jaeger says.