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Clerical, Technical Workers Grow Frustrated Over Yearlong Contract Negotiations with Harvard

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{shortcode-2a6d20b36bf1a51403bdb27028b331b88db39b7c}s negotiations between Harvard’s clerical and technical union and the University pass their one-year mark, union employees have now gone more than a year and a half without a pay raise.

The current round of contract negotiations is the second-longest in Harvard Union of Clerical and Technical Workers’ 34-year history. Its previous one-year contract expired Sept. 30, 2022, and HUCTW and Harvard agreed to negotiate through a federal mediator in November 2022.

The slow pace of negotiations has caused frustrations to mount within the union.

In a March 1 newsletter, the union claimed Harvard has failed to make “a meaningful move since their last offer in January” — an 11.5 percent wage increase over three years, which “doesn’t come close to addressing high inflation rates,” the newsletter stated.

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“They seem like they’re just digging in their heels,” said Leslie MacPherson, a department administrator at the Harvard Divinity School.

In an emailed statement, University spokesperson Jason A. Newton wrote that Harvard “remains committed” to negotiating in good faith “with a full appreciation for the important role our HUCTW colleagues have in fulfilling Harvard’s mission and their contributions to our community as a whole.”

As the negotiations continue, union members face growing financial strain. Average rent in Boston has increased by 8.1 percent over the past year according to Zillow.

“People are feeling the pain,” said Timothy M. Conant, an access coordinator at the Harvard Kennedy School Library.

Sarah E. Hillman, an executive assistant at the Sharpe Laboratory at Harvard Medical School, said the lag in negotiations has caused “uncertainty” as she prepares to sign a new lease.

“I’m somebody who rents an apartment, and I need to commit to my landlord in May whether I’m staying or moving,” she said. “I find that challenging to do not knowing what my salary will be going into the future.”

HUCTW members said many need to go into credit card debt or dip into their retirement accounts to stay afloat.

“As an older worker, I’m concerned about my rate of pay and the value that it has as I look toward retirement,” Conant said.

Anna Taylor, an IT specialist at the Harvard-MIT Data Center, said her coworkers “are making tough choices about which bills to pay.”

The Pay

The University’s last offer to the union — an 11.5 percent raise over three years — has drawn criticism from HUCTW members. In a Feb. 7 email to union members, Harvard’s Vice President of Human Resources Manuel Cuevas-Trisán wrote the offer took into account “comparative market factors, as well as the total compensation and benefits package and low attrition rates.”

He also wrote the University had tentatively agreed with HUCTW on “14 topics proposed by the Union” unrelated to compensation.

Lamont Library assistant Geoffrey P. Carens said that if the union were to accept the 11.5 percent raise, “we would lose a lot of ground.”

Elizabeth C. “Liz” Hoveland ’22, communications coordinator at Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, said she believed Cuevas-Trisán’s February email was an example of union-busting by “blaming union leaders for not saying yes to have this contract.”

Newton, the University spokesperson, declined to comment on the allegation of union busting.

“The University’s latest proposal reflects our commitment to addressing the important issues that remain the focus of these negotiations through significant increases in compensation, including retroactive pay to offset the impact of inflation, and enhanced benefits support,” he added.

The Strategy

Since February, HUCTW has been holding informational pickets outside of Massachusetts Hall three days a week. At the picket last Tuesday, Taylor — the IT specialist — said she believed Harvard administrators know “that we’re here and we’re not going to give up.”

“I think they’re having a really positive effect,” said Hillman, the HMS executive assistant. “We have a lot of support in the broader Harvard community for the things that we’re asking for.”

On March 21, more than 250 protesters rallied in support of the union. Massachusetts State Rep. Marjorie C. Decker and Boston City Councilor Kenzie Bok ’11 both spoke at the rally.

Some HUCTW members disagree with the current picketing campaign, arguing the union should be employing a more forceful approach.

“I thought we’d be doing a bit more,” Hoveland said.

Carens said they would like the union to consider starting a strike fund.

“Personally, if we don’t get a contract offer that I can accept, I will organize a campaign against the contract,” Carens said.

Still, HUCTW members remain broadly in support of “what the union is doing,” said Conant, the HKS Library access coordinator, adding that past efforts at picketing and organizing “eventually had an effect on the University.”

HUCTW President Carrie E. Barbash said union leadership is continuing to solicit feedback from members.

“We are trying to be very careful and listening to all types of members and reaching out to particularly the members that we don’t talk to and don’t hear from as much to see, ‘What are you comfortable with? How are you feeling about this? Do you want to keep pushing? Do you want to settle?’” Barbash said.

Though frustrations with the bargaining process have grown, Conant said HUCTW will also see an increase in bargaining power.

“Think about what happens in May at the University. We’ve got graduation, we’ve got alumni, we’ve got parents coming through the campus,” Conant said. “Our platform only increases and our visibility only increases as we get farther and deeper into the spring.”

—Staff writer Cam E. Kettles can be reached at cam.kettles@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @cam_kettles.

—Staff writer Julia A. Maciejak can be reached at julia.maciejak@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @maciejak_a.

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