Harvard will provide 30 days of paid leave with benefits to employees whose work cannot continue remotely during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, such as dining hall staff and custodians whose facilities have closed.
The “emergency paid time off” benefit applies to those staff who are healthy and able to work, but whose jobs cannot occur remotely and there are no alternate work assignments available, according to a dedicated coronavirus page on Harvard’s Human Resources website. Employees who are sick, self-isolated, quarantined, or taking care of a family member due to COVID-19 may use sick time, including up to 14 unearned days as a loan.
Last week, the University transitioned all classes online and asked undergraduates not to return to campus in an effort to slow the spread of the virus, resulting in numerous closures, from research labs to dining halls.
UNITE HERE Local 26 President-elect Carlos Aramayo, whose union represents Harvard dining hall workers, said he is “happy” with the 30-day paid leave policy, which will kick in next Monday for Harvard University Dining Services staff whose dining halls have closed.
Only the Eliot, Kirkland, Lowell, Quincy, and Adams House dining halls will remain open to serve the few undergraduates who were allowed to remain on campus. Cabot and Pforzheimer dining facilities will also remain open to serve graduate students, according to Local 26 chief shop stewards Laquiesha N. Rainey and Aaron J. Duckett. The halls will serve exclusively bagged meals — with three options each for breakfast, lunch, and dinner — to comply with new Massachusetts rules prohibiting on-site food and beverage consumption.
These dining halls employ fewer than 25 people normally, according to Rainey, meaning they comply with University policy prohibiting non-essential gatherings of more than 25 individuals.
Aramayo added that the union’s initial agreement with Harvard met Local 26’s top priorities, which were to maintain healthcare benefits for members during the crisis and to prepare them for the “income hit that’s coming.” Local 26 employees at Harvard receive year-round health benefits, despite only working during the school year, meaning the University will continue to provide benefits despite the closures.
Rainey said Harvard has also agreed to continue making regular contributions to employees’ benefits during the 30-day paid leave period. Employees whose dining halls remain open may take sick leave according to the new, more flexible sick time policy.
“This health crisis kind of came at us rather quickly,” Rainey said. “Harvard and the union were real quick to come together and try to meet in the middle and make sure that the members and the students were taken care of in this situation, and keep everybody safe as best as possible.”
32BJ Service Employees International Union Vice President Roxana Rivera wrote in an emailed statement that no custodians have been laid off or seen reduced hours due to the outbreak thus far.
“While some buildings on campus have closed, we’ve been able to work with the University to move workers to other buildings rather than reducing staff,” Rivera wrote.
“These are difficult and scary times for all, and we’re doing everything within our power to ensure that Harvard workers are able to support themselves and their families while having access to the resources they need,” she wrote. “We are in daily contact with Harvard management, along with their contractors, to ensure that workers have the supplies they need to do their jobs safely, and can stay on the job despite university life being shut down.”
University spokesperson Jason A. Newton confirmed that any custodians put out of work by building closures will receive 30 days of paid leave with benefits.
Aramayo said that discussions are still underway about whether the 30-day paid leave policy will extend to subcontracted employees also represented by Local 26. Food service workers at Harvard Law School, Harvard Medical School, Harvard Business School, and Harvard Graduate School of Design are employed by Restaurant Associates — a national dining services firm — rather than directly by the University.
“It’s not been resolved as of yet, but we’re hopeful we’ll get to a good resolution on that,” Aramayo said.
A Restaurant Associates spokesperson declined to comment on applying the 30-day paid leave policy to Restaurant Associates employees, referring to Harvard. Newton, the University spokesperson, wrote in an emailed statement that the University’s initial priority is to its direct hire employees, adding that Harvard will continue to review its policies.
Employees whose facilities have closed will still face a gap between the end of paid leave and the scheduled end of the school year in which they could go unpaid — an issue Aramayo said Local 26 continues to discuss with the University.
“This is a very fast moving and very fluid situation,” Aramayo said. “Just because we’ve gotten this initial agreement to have this 30-day period, it doesn’t mean that we’re going to stop talking to the University.”
Duckett said that, even as the pandemic has continued to unfold, HUDS workers have continued to report to work out of care for the students.
“We love the students, and we’re really worried about the students,” Duckett said. “That’s always been our job and always something we’ve been proud of.”
—Staff writer James S. Bikales can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @jamepdx.