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Harvard Police Officer Union Takes University to Arbitration Over Change in Work Schedule

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The Harvard police officer union and the University will meet in arbitration on Dec. 18 to discuss a forthcoming change in officers’ patrol schedule that the union alleges is a violation of its collective-bargaining agreement.

In May, Harvard notified the police officer’s union — the Harvard University Police Association — that it plans to increase the number of consecutive days officers work to reduce the department’s expenses as a result of the financial strain caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

Harvard University Police Department Chief Francis D. “Bud” Riley explained the University’s decision to increase the number of days officers work consecutively in a May 12 letter obtained by The Crimson addressed to HUPD officer Michael J. Allen, who serves as the union’s president.

“The economic reality that the university faces affects every department of the university, including the Harvard University Police Department,” Riley wrote. “As a result of this reality, the department must look at all options in its effort to reduce operational expenses and to become more efficient in the delivery of our police and public safety services.”

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Per the union’s collective bargaining agreement, officers normally work four days in a row followed by two consecutive days off — a “4 & 2 schedule.” Either the union or the University can change the normal work schedule from four consecutive days to five consecutive days — a “5 & 2” schedule — upon 180 days’ notice if there is “reasonable cause,” the contract stipulates.

Riley wrote in his May 12 letter that the change to a “5 & 2” schedule would take effect on Nov. 21.

In a grievance filed against Harvard on June 3 that was obtained by The Crimson, the union claimed Riley’s rationale for changing the work schedule did not constitute reasonable cause. The union requested an independent arbitrator to resolve the dispute.

According to four officers who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation, the change to the “5 & 2” will not reduce HUPD’s operational costs. HUPD’s expenses will not change because officers will receive the same salary, though they will work more days of the year, according to the union.

In his letter, Riley wrote that the department would have to consider further cost-cutting moves that could affect members of the union.

“You should also be aware that the department, notwithstanding this schedule change, must still find further efficiencies in order to comply with the budget direction given by the University,” he wrote. “This will no doubt cause further discussions regarding employment actions affecting HUPA membership.”

If the department were sincerely committed to reducing expenses, officers alleged, it would trim other parts of its budget, such as the roughly 20 take-home vehicles it maintains. Previously, officers said they believed the department dolled out those cars to certain officers as a form of favoritism.

What is more, union members claim that Riley is changing officers’ work schedule to retaliate against the union for filing labor relations complaints and for criticizing the department in The Crimson.

Harvard spokesperson Jonathan L. Swain declined to comment for this article.

Officers said the change in work schedule will significantly worsen their quality of life by preventing them from spending weekends off from work — unless they dip into their vacation time. As a result, they said they will have fewer moments to spend with their children and spouses. In a “4 & 2” schedule, the days in the calendar week that officers have on and off rotates. In a “5 & 2” schedule, however, officers who are scheduled to work weekends will always have to work those days.

As a result, officers predicted the change in work schedule will further worsen department morale and may lead officers to leave HUPD.

HUPD has not employed a “5 & 2” schedule for at least 20 years, according to current and former officers.

The dispute is far from the first time the department’s leadership and the police officers’ union have clashed.

In September 2019, the union condemned the department’s disciplinary handling of a violent and verbally-abusive incident between two HUPD officers. According to an internal investigation of the incident, a Black officer and a white officer engaged in a physical struggle after the white officer called the Black officer a homophobic slur. The union criticized the department’s leadership for suspending the Black officer and for not terminating the white officer’s employment at HUPD.

More recently, the union’s executive board criticized an internal review of the department and called for an external investigation to objectively interrogate the department’s culture.

HUPD leadership set in motion the review in response to an investigation by The Crimson that found repeated instances of racism and sexism within HUPD. The Crimson article cited nearly two dozen current and former department employees who held Riley responsible for creating a toxic workplace environment.

—Staff writer Ema R. Schumer can be reached at ema.schumer@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @emaschumer.

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