Wednesday, March 31, 2010

“Layoffs Are Not the New Crimson” - HUCTW and Supporters Rally Against Mass Layoffs at Harvard

“Layoffs Are Not the New Crimson” - HUCTW and Supporters Rally Against Mass Layoffs at Harvard

by Ana Traynin (Staff), Mar-30-10

Cambridge, MA - About 80 people rallied outside the Holyoke Center administration building at Harvard University early Thursday evening in support for the Harvard Union of Clerical and Technical Workers. The group gathered to protest the recent announcement of five more union employees losing their jobs at the Sackler Museum at the end of June. The rally also expressed outrage at the continued layoff trend, highlighting the loss of over 340 union jobs since last year, last spring’s forced early-retirement offers and the hiring of temporary employees. It was the latest demonstration in the ongoing No Layoffs Campaign at Harvard.

Led by HUCTW Widener library representative Geoff Carens, the demonstration also attracted, among others, members of the USWA Local 8751 Boston School Bus Drivers Union, the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), the Boston Anti-Authoritarian Movement (BAAM), the Boston Socialist Alternative and the Harvard Student Labor Action Movement (SLAM).

“Now, we have a problem in our union because our laid-off union members – some of them haven’t found work at all and their jobs ended in June,” Carens announced at the beginning of the rally. “And a lot of other laid-off workers are having to work as temps without any sick time, any vacation time or meaningful benefits because they can’t get union jobs.”

Carens went on to describe the reasons he believes the university has no justification for the recent round of layoffs.

“Harvard University, in just the last quarter – in three months – collected $121 million in federal stimulus money. Last year, the University took in $600 million in gifts. And the endowment remains $26 billion, the largest endowment of any university on Earth. They are considered to be a non-profit. A non-profit that is sitting on a pile of money, $26 billion! What kind of non-profit is that?”

The rally picketed in a circle for nearly an hour outside the Holyoke Center building, chanting slogans such as “Harvard Workers Under Attack! What Do We Do? Stand Up, Fight Back!” and “Worker Student Power Power!” Several passersby stopped to take literature and show support.

Following the picketing, Carens again addressed the group and introduced other speakers, which included a member of the bus drivers union, other HUTCW representatives and Harvard SLAM members.
Phebe Eckfeldt, HUCTW representative and admissions office worker spoke about the demand for transparency about Harvard’s financial situation.

“We say, this is an educational institution, it’s not a giant hedge fund,” she said. “The staff – we should be the ones to audit Harvard’s books.”

Eckfeldt went on to address what the union sees as discrimination and human rights violations against laid-off workers.

“We have to make sure that Harvard doesn’t divide us by racism, by sexism, by agism, by lesbian and gay and trans bigotry,” she said. “Workers were laid off by sexist, racist managers who used the layoffs to get rid of women and get rid of people of color.”

Eckfeldt closed her speech by noting that the UN Human Rights Constitution guarantees a job as a right.
A Harvard SLAM member discussed the recent changes the group has observed in campus awareness of labor issues.

“The student body is waking up a little bit ,” she said. “The faculty is asking ‘Where is all the outrage?’ and they’ve been asking it in their own offices and not realizing that a lot of other faculty members are asking this. And we’re now piecing them all together, which is really exciting so I think this is going really great places.”
She also addressed SLAM’s philosophy in regards to working within the Harvard community.

“We are of the profound belief that this campus is not just students, it is not just faculty and it is not just HMC, a corporation. It is a giant community of people that are all equally integral to how this place works.”
To close off the rally, members of the Industrial Workers of the World led the gathered demonstrators in a rendition of union anthem “Solidarity Forever.”

Speaking after the rally, Jane Williams, another SLAM member, talked about why her group came out to the union demonstration.

“SLAM is opposed to layoffs and believes that Harvard can take creative alternatives to layoffs so we’re here to show our support,” Williams said.

Carens felt optimistic about the turnout for the rally, which had been planned weeks in advance.
“I was so thrilled that this many people came out and I think it’s a very hopeful sign for the future.”
HUCTW is currently negotiating a new contract with the university, with the current three-year agreement expiring at the end of June. Eckfeldt explained that the timing makes this demonstration particularly important.
“We wanted to come up with a show of union strength to tell Harvard that we will not accept any concessions, any cutbacks, any more layoffs,” Eckfeldt said. “We’re also here because whatever we demand as workers gets back to the students in a beneficial way. They have cut libraries, they have closed libraries, they have cut library hours, they don’t have hot breakfast anymore. They have cut back on the resources on the faculty. So all of these things negatively impact the students. That’s why we’ve united with the students and vice versa and also other unions on the campus who are facing layoffs and cutbacks.”

In an email response to the reaction against the upcoming layoff of five Sackler Museum workers, Daron Manoogian, Director of Communications at the Harvard University Art Museums, noted the summer museum renovations.

“The Harvard Art Museum is operating in a limited capacity while construction crews carry out a major renovation of the facilities on Quincy Street, and beginning July 1 the Sackler Museum galleries will be closed on Sundays and Mondays. The limited gallery space and reduction in operating hours means that we need fewer staff in our Security and Visitor Services departments during the renovation. Museum officials and the University's Labor Relations team are already working through the established impact bargaining process with union representatives to address these changes, and we are committed to doing what we can under existing labor contracts to minimize the impact these changes will have on a small number of museum employees.”
William Murphy, Director of Labor & Employee Relations did not respond to requests for comment by press time. Kevin Galvin, Director of News and Media Relations at Harvard University declined to comment on the rally.

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