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Harvard Securitas Guards Allege Inadequate Union Representation

Several security guards who worked at Harvard Medical School are alleging that their union has failed to adequately represent them.
Several security guards who worked at Harvard Medical School are alleging that their union has failed to adequately represent them. By Krystal K. Phu
By James S. Bikales and Ruoqi Zhang, Crimson Staff Writers

Several current and former security guards at Harvard allege that their union, 32BJ Service Employees International Union, has not adequately represented them in employer disputes, citing poor communication and confidentiality breaches.

Their employer, Securitas North America, is contracted by Harvard to handle most of its security guard operations. Harvard’s Securitas guards are represented by 32BJ SEIU.

Stanley Demesyeux, a security guard at Harvard Medical School until November 2015, said that after filing a grievance with 32BJ SEIU against Securitas, there was “a lot of miscommunication” with Ingrid I. Nava, the union attorney representing him in the arbitration.

When Nava went on leave during the arbitration process, Demesyeux said he was not notified until he attempted to reach out to her. Similarly, he said he only learned that a different attorney was arbitrating the case after he reached out again to Nava.

Demesyeux ultimately lost his grievance arbitration against Securitas, which he said he found out only after calling the union attorney roughly a week after the union had received the verdict.

“I had to chase down the union lawyer to find out what's going on,” Demesyeux said.

Roxana Rivera, vice president of 32BJ SEIU, wrote in an emailed statement that the union takes arbitration cases “very seriously.”

“As we advocate for a higher standard of living for Harvard’s workforce, we take cases involving individual members very seriously, using the full force of our contract to conduct prompt and thorough investigations so we can represent members as fully and fairly as possible at all stages of the grievance and arbitration process,” Rivera wrote.

Nava did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Two other Securitas guards at the Medical School also turned to the union after Harvard requested they receive a non-disciplinary transfer to its Cambridge campus. The guards, Arlene Yarde and Susan C. Castignetti, could not find open positions that fit with previously noted personal accommodations, leaving them without wages. Because the transfers were non-disciplinary, Harvard did not have to provide a reason for its request, but Securitas’ contract requires the company to make a “good faith effort” to understand why.

After her transfer two years ago, Yarde asked Karina Flores, the union representative for Harvard’s 32BJ employees, to investigate the transfer. Flores told her she would meet with Christopher Connolly, an area director for Securitas, to ascertain what had happened, but Yarde said Flores never updated her on what the two discussed in that meeting.

Yarde also asked Flores to notify her whenever Securitas posted open shifts in Cambridge, according to emails Yarde provided. Flores only texted Yarde about openings once, though, Yarde said.

“She was always saying that she's going to call me and never would call,” Yarde said.

“They’re supposed to be the people that we should rely on to help with our case and there's no communication,” Yarde added. “I'm fighting, but I need somebody else to help me fight.”

Castignetti also said that Flores “would not fight” for justification for her non-disciplinary transfer. Castignetti, who served as union steward for guards at the Medical School, said that Flores only asked Securitas for proof that the client requested the transfer, but not for Harvard’s reasoning.

“If I'm going to represent somebody, especially an acting steward that's been taken off the campus that represents officers, I would say to the person at Securitas, ‘why is she being transferred?’” Castignetti said. “I wouldn't ask for proof. First, I'd ask why.”

“Not only did I get rejected by my campus, I got rejected by my union,” Castignetti added.

Castignetti also said Flores shared information about Castignetti’s case without her permission.

Last month, Castignetti discovered posts on Workership, an anonymous online forum used by Securitas guards, that mentioned that Harvard Medical School has lost its union steward – almost certainly a reference to Castignetti. It also noted that the steward was unable to find a shift after the non-disciplinary transfer, according to screenshots of the posts provided by Castignetti.

The anonymous officer wrote in the post that they “had a long conservation by phone with Karina” and then proceeded to list details about Castignetti’s case that she had not revealed to anyone besides Flores.

Castignetti said the only way the person could know these details would have been through the phone conversation with Flores.

“Karina is the rep, all my stuff is supposed to be confidential,” Castignetti said. “They're not allowed to divulge anything. And I said this, I was so upset. I was so angry.”

After Castignetti texted Flores about sharing personal information, Flores responded, “I don’t like to be threatened by anyone. Even less when all I done is try to help you,” according to texts Castignetti provided.

Flores subsequently blocked Castignetti.

Flores did not respond to multiple requests for comment regarding the two women’s allegations.

“We also take members’ allegations against our union representatives very seriously, and are committed to conducting thorough investigations of these matters,” Rivera wrote in her emailed statement. “We expect our union representatives to conduct themselves professionally and to be committed to the betterment of our members’ lives.”

University spokesperson Jonathan L. Swain declined to comment as it is “a matter involving non-Harvard employees and their union.”

— Staff writer James S. Bikales can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @jamepdx.

— Staff writer Ruoqi Zhang can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @RuoqiZhang3.

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