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Harvard’s Academic Workers Unionized. But in a Year of Labor Ups and Downs, How Did They Win?

HUCTW Begins Picketing for Wage Increases Amid Contract Impasse

The Harvard Union of Clerical and Technical Workers began picketing in front of Massachusetts Hall on Tuesday.
The Harvard Union of Clerical and Technical Workers began picketing in front of Massachusetts Hall on Tuesday. By Julian J. Giordano

Members of the Harvard Union of Clerical and Technical Workers gathered outside Massachusetts Hall Tuesday to demand the University grant a higher pay raise as Harvard and the union enter month 10 of contract negotiations.

HUCTW’s last contract expired on Sept. 30, 2022. The current negotiations, which started in April 2022, are the longest in the union’s history since 2013.

“It’s been 16 months since our members have had a raise,” HUCTW director Bill Jaeger said. “This is starting to be pretty clearly the most difficult of the 13 rounds of negotiations that we’ve had with the University.”

After negotiating privately since April, HUCTW and the University began meeting through a third-party mediator in November. They have since met 12 times to seek a final agreement.

“It does add some seriousness to the whole situation,” Jaeger said.

Though the previous contract remains in effect, none of the tentative agreements that both sides have already reached can go into effect until disagreements over compensation have been resolved.

“I also feel that we deserve to have raises where we are keeping up with inflation and making financial progression,” SEAS faculty administrator Claudia Stearns said at Tuesday’s protest. “That has always been the standard we have gone by — the union and Harvard. And all of a sudden, Harvard is unwilling to do that, not even to keep up with inflation.”

“In this time, a lot of us are really hurting. A lot of us are really struggling,” added Stearns, who is a member of HUCTW.

In an email to all employees eligible for benefits Tuesday afternoon, Vice President for Human Resources Manuel Cuevas-Trisán wrote that University negotiators are currently offering the union an 11.5 percent increase in total wages over three years and an additional 14 percent increase to funds administered by HUCTW.

“Our compensation proposal takes into account comparative market factors, as well as the total compensation and benefits package and low attrition rates,” Cuevas-Trisán wrote.

According to the union, the average HUCTW member makes about $65,000 annually. Organizers dispute the claim that Harvard’s wages are competitive compared to other employers.

“Harvard is not competitive with those institutions,” HUCTW President Carrie E. Barbash said. “But even if that’s true, it doesn’t seem like a good reason to not pay your employees enough to just keep up with the basic cost of living.”

The union is still not satisfied with the University’s proposed pay raise, Barbash said.

“We prefer to finish on time, and everyone involved definitely wants to wrap this up, but we also want it to be the strongest contract possible,” she added.

Tuesday’s protesters did not chant or march — instead, roughly a dozen members gathered to pass out flyers explaining their demands.

HUCTW members in attendance said the event was primarily about raising awareness. Last semester, the union held multiple rallies amid stagnant negotiations. In October 2022, more than 3,500 union members signed a statement calling on Harvard to accept HUCTW’s proposed pay raise.

“We’re not at this point escalating our action,” said Jeffrey T. Offermann, a technician in Molecular and Cellular Biology who attended the protest. “We want to get the word out.”

Offermann said workers were frustrated to go without a raise.

“Harvard has been offering a wage increase that doesn’t anywhere near approach the level of inflation,” Offermann said. “That means that as prices for things skyrocket, we’re effectively taking a pay cut.”

In addition to the picketing campaign, HUCTW has launched a faculty outreach program to encourage Harvard faculty to show public support for the negotiations. The union is also calling on its members to write letters to administrators and not work outside their paid hours.

“There probably will be more events where we want to show our strength in numbers,” Jaeger said. “But I think for the informational picketing at Mass. Hall, I think it’s more of creating a feeling of making sure everybody in our community understands — and our management, negotiating counterparts, and senior administrators who are decision makers on all this understand that our determination is great.”

Cuevas-Trisán wrote in Tuesday’s statement that the University will continue to approach negotiations in good faith.

The group plans to continue protesting for two hours every Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday.

“I plan to be out here until Harvard agrees to get a raise that meets inflation and gives us financial progression. That is my stand,” Stearns said. “As long as it takes. As long as it takes.”

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

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

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