Dozens protest Harvard layoffs
After an hour of chanting through a loud speaker and marching through Harvard Yard with a group of sign-holding protesters, Geoff Carens’ voice was hoarse, but his message to Harvard University was clear.
“Watch out,” he said.
Thursday’s protest was just the beginning of public demonstrations from Harvard students, staff, union workers, and members of the No Layoffs Campaign in reaction to Harvard University’s announcement on Tuesday to fire 275 employees due to a projected 30 percent drop in its endowment – now estimated at close to $26 billion.
“This is just the beginning,” said Carens, a member of the No Layoffs Campaign and a union representative, about future efforts to fight cutting the school’s workforce.
A group of about 30 protesters, many representing the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees and the Harvard Union of Clerical and Technical Workers, yelled in unison and held signs that read “Harvard has the money,” and “Harvard is more than just students.”
“When Harvard workers are under attack, what do we do? Stand up fight back,” the rallying group chanted as they moved from Harvard Yard to Mass. Ave.
In a letter to the university, Harvard president Drew Faust said the past year has “created a set of extraordinary financial challenges.”
“Difficult circumstances have called for difficult decisions across the university,” she wrote.
Along with the sizeable staff cuts – representing close to 2 percent of the university’s workforce – about 40 more staff members will be offered positions with reduced work hours.
Marilyn Hausammann, vice president for human resources at Harvard, said the school has already taken cost-saving measures over the past months like limiting discretionary and travel spending, implementing a hiring and salary freeze, along with a voluntary early-retirement program for more than 500 employees.
“Harvard is being run as a corporation,” said AFSCME member Phebe Eskfeldt.
Harvard spokesman Kevin Galvin said in a statement that staff reductions have been spread evenly across the school’s workforce. Among the 275 job cuts, half of the positions are administrative or professional positions and the rest are clerical or technical workers.
“University officials have worked closely with the unions representing workers at Harvard to provide them with relevant information about the financial challenges that the schools and the central administration are facing, and to offer them opportunities to suggest alternatives to layoffs,” he said in an e-mail. “By the time the process is complete, it will have included about 75 impact bargaining sessions over more than four weeks.”
Harvard is Cambridge's top employer with 11,315 workers in the city.