Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Date of Looming Staff Layoffs To Be Determined

Date of Looming Staff Layoffs To Be Determined
Published On Wednesday, June 03, 2009 10:13 PM

Despite recent chatter that the University plans on instituting mass layoffs later this month—after the conclusion of Commencement activities—both a union leader at Harvard and a University spokesman say that negotiations about staff reductions remain in the early stages, making any discussions of a timeline premature.

“The persistent rumors out there [are] based on the mythology that the University is one big coordinated entity and that some Harvard office is the keeper of the list of people to be laid off,” said Bill Jaeger, director of the Harvard Union of Clerical and Technical Workers, the University’s largest union. “Our experience is that both of those impressions are blatantly wrong.”

He added that schools and departments around the University have only begun requesting meetings with the union this past week. Under the union’s negotiated contract, Harvard is required to notify and consult with the union before conducting any layoffs in order to allow the union to propose alternatives to job cuts, Jaeger said.

Similarly, University spokesman Kevin Galvin said that while Harvard will likely “have to make further changes to the size of its workforce” in the face of an unprecedented fiscal crisis, discussions with union partners are still underway, making it “premature” to determine when such changes to staff positions might occur.

Faculty of Arts and Sciences Dean Michael D. Smith said in April that the administration would not announce any plans for layoffs before the summer, but beyond that, the University has not released any timeline. Rumors about prospective job cuts have offered dates ranging from June 10 to the end of the month.

With layoffs looming, some have continued to rally on behalf of staff. Kimberly Theidon, an associate professor of anthropology, has proposed the “1% Campaign,” which calls for a voluntary 1 percent faculty pay cut to help stave off staff layoffs. She said that she has witnessed “overwhelming willingness” to participate among faculty.

But according to FAS spokesman Robert P. Mitchell, the institution of even an across-the-board 2 percent salary reduction for non-union workers would have only a “minor impact,” saving less than $5 million—only a fraction of the $143 million that remains to be cut.

“Those who enjoy great privileges also have great responsibilities, and that means making great sacrifices for the common good when circumstances require it,” wrote public policy and history and literature lecturer Timothy P. McCarthy in an e-mailed statement last month in support of voluntary paycuts among faculty. “This is one of those circumstances.”

“We are a community here at Harvard—or at least we should be—and now is the time for all of us to act like it,” McCarthy added.

—Staff writer Esther I. Yi can be reached at estheryi@fas.harvard.edu.

—Staff writer Peter F. Zhu can be reached at pzhu@fas.harvard.edu.

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