Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Article from Harvard's Perspective Magazine: Mail Room Workers Under Attack

By Geoff Carens, Union Rep, Harvard Union of Clerical and Technical Workers (HUCTW), Member, Industrial Workers of the World (IWW)

For many years the Harvard Yard Mail Center was a good place to work and a good place to visit. An article from the Harvard Crimson documents the camaraderie which had helped make the mail room a welcoming place for the hundreds of freshmen who visited to pick up their packages from home. However, a change of management over the past few years has brought repeated complaints of discrimination, well-attended protests by workers and students, and a steady drip of negative publicity that ought to call the new management’s policies into serious question. For almost twenty-five years I’ve acted as an elected union rep in the Harvard Union of Clerical and Technical Workers (HUCTW). I’ve represented union members all over campus, and I have seldom seen such an unfair and unsympathetic approach on the part of managers towards the staff. Three workers’ situations in particular shed light on the many problems found in this workplace.

Marvin Byrd, a 62-year-old African American, has worked in the mail room since 1995. Although Marvin suffers from diabetic foot disease, causing him to need foot braces to walk, he has a strong work ethic and is never content to sit home and collect a disability check. Marvin has consistently sought to augment his technical skills by taking computer courses. Making ends meet on a part-time schedule in the lowest salary grade in our union has been difficult, so Marvin has often put in huge numbers of overtime hours during busy times.

In the spring of 2011, a new management team from Harvard University Mail Services (HUMS) presented Marvin with an ultimatum: he could either accept a cut in his limited part-time schedule or be laid off. On May 12, 2011, Marvin received a letter which forced him to pick one of three “options”: a cut from 29 to 25 hours per week, spread over six days; an even sharper cut to just 20 hours per week; or the unemployment line. The letter stated, “We need a response no later than Friday May 20, 2011. If no response, the layoff package will be the elected option.”

Marvin asked me to be his union rep, and we invoked the grievance procedure laid out in our union contract. We met over many months with two different teams of problem-solvers, each team including one representative from management and one from the union. Marvin and I offered specific proposals in an effort to seek compromise with HUMS administrators. However, throughout the whole process, management has not budged from their initial position. They never offered Marvin any choices other than the ones presented in May 2011, and he could not afford to lose his job or work only 20 hours per week. So, even though he is the oldest worker in the unit and the only one who must use braces to walk, Marvin was forced to accept a curtailed schedule of just 25 hours per week spread over a mandatory six day week. Marvin has a tough commute from subsidized housing in Lynn, made more difficult by his disability. He often gets just a few hours of work in the mail room before he must get back on public transportation for the long ride home.

Although HUMS management has stonewalled the union during the grievance process, Marvin refused to take their actions against him lying down. He filed complaints of discrimination on the basis of race, color, age, and disability at the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (MCAD). On a chilly day last December, a group of workers and students demonstrated against management’s harsh treatment of Marvin, but their approach since then has not changed. HUMS manager Betsy Shortell even emailed Marvin to accuse him of missing a meeting that she planned outside his work hours. Shortell wrote, “You missed a SCHEDULED hr meeting that we now have to come give just to you.” Although she later admitted Marvin wasn’t even supposed to be on duty during the meeting, some animus against him apparently remains. Marvin applied for a promotion from his entry-level job more than four months ago. Although his contract states that he should have received a reply in four weeks, management has still not given him an answer.

Like Marvin, Mamadou Ndiaye has worked at Harvard for many years. He has spent the past five of his fourteen years here working in the Science Center mail room. Mamadou is classified as a “less than half-time” worker, meaning he is not entitled to union membership, health benefits, Harvard contributions toward his retirement, tuition discounts, or any of the other important advantages which union membership brings. Despite his experience, he earns only $11.50 an hour. According to HUCTW’s contract, management’s use of less than half-time workers “should be exceptional and strictly limited, and never at the expense of regular benefited employment. In other words, everyone who does regular Harvard work on a regular basis deserves the benefit of regular employment.” If Mamadou worked 17.5 hours or more for longer than three months, his job could be converted into a regular union job with benefits. Instead he gets just 17 hours per week, as he has gotten throughout his time in the mail room.

Recently, Mamadou noticed two union jobs, whose minimum salary would be more than $16.50 per hour, posted online. After he made efforts to apply for the positions, they were removed from Harvard’s employment site, and Mamadou was told by management that they had been posted by mistake.

Like Marvin and Mamadou, long-serving employee Johany Pilar has suffered from a deteriorating working environment in the Science Center mail room. In late February and March, Johany, who is Latina and has worked in the mailroom since 1998, was repeatedly sexually harassed by a much older, married male co-worker. After Johany complained to management about the harassment, Shortell called and engaged in what struck Johany as victim-blaming. Johany remembers Shortell saying, “I can see you like to hug people,” as if Johany was somehow at fault for the unwanted advances and aggressive physical contact she had faced. Shortell instructed her to “…be nice, try to work together, try to work professionally,” with the person who had harassed her, and gave Johany the responsibility of training him. Feeling trapped, Johany reluctantly attempted to train this co-worker, but only faced more aggressive physical contact from her harasser. Ever since she first reported the unwanted grabbing and come-ons, Johany has been mistreated by HUMS managers.

This May, HUMS manager Chris Tolkacz demanded that Johany cancel a therapy appointment she had set up to cope with this sexual harassment and come to work instead. The pressure was so upsetting for Johany that she had a panic attack in the mail room, collapsed, injured her back, and had to be hospitalized. Johany’s doctor wrote that she could return to work after the hospitalization, but shouldn’t lift more than ten pounds for a week. Management refused to accommodate Johany’s back injury, demanding that she be cleared 100% before returning. As a result, Johany lost a week’s pay.

This wasn’t the end of Johany’s troubles. She tells me that Shortell confronted her in the mail room the morning of June 5, threatening an unspecified “big, big problem,” in the future. Three months later, Shortell made good on her threat, drafting an unfair disciplinary letter that specifically warned Johany that she could be fired. Johany had not received any discipline in 15 years of service at Harvard, until she complained of sexual harassment. Now, after standing up for her right to equal treatment on the job, that job is in jeopardy. She has filed complaints of gender discrimination and retaliation at the MCAD. And in October, she spoke movingly about her experience with rape culture and for fair treatment at work at a panel organized by the Harvard College International Women’s Rights Collective and several other groups.

Students, workers, and other community members have organized to support Johany. Eight student organizations and the Industrial Workers of the World signed on to an open letter to Harvard’s Labor Relations department decrying Johany’s treatment. On October 18, scores of workers and students picketed in support of Johany in front of the Holyoke Center; her co-workers Marvin Byrd and Mamadou Ndiaye, among others, spoke up for her at this demonstration. Her supporters held another spirited picket for her on November 16.

To date the only response from management has been a declaration stating that the mail room workers, including Johany, Marvin, and Mamadou, are now considered “essential staff,” expected to report for work even when the university is shut down during emergencies such as Hurricane Sandy. These workers were not considered “essential” until Marvin and Mamadou defended Johany in public. Mail room workers see this change in classification as just another example of the tit-for-tat retaliation, designed to undermine staff solidarity, which has characterized HUMS’s approach to management. The new policy will make things difficult for Marvin, as a result of his disability; for Johany, who has a heart condition; and for Mamadou, who has children who would not have school during such emergency days.

This is another bitter disappointment for workers in the Science Center mail room, who are becoming accustomed to such crushing news. One would think that all this controversy would pressure HUMS management to change their practices in a number of ways. For instance, HUMS would be wise to reinstate the previous mail room supervisor, HUCTW member Nassim Kerkache, who maintained a safe and equitable atmosphere. Management should remove the retaliatory discipline from Johany’s file and treat her much more sympathetically at work; they should grant Marvin’s request for promotion, which would be his first in 17 years; and they should finally extend to Mamadou regular employment with benefits. HUMS ought to rescind the new, punitive classification of mail room workers as “essential,” for the mail room workers do not do essential tasks like preparing food or insuring students’ safety. These small improvements would go a long way towards rectifying the conditions that have sparked so much angry protest.

These are horror stories. It enrages me that the University solicits donations from alumni/ae and yet figuratively beats up on some of its lowest paid employees. It’s hard to understand what HU gains by bringing in such management teams. How much money can they save by nickel and diming hard working employees and further by harrassing them and trying to rid themselves of employees with disabilities? They don’t teach the “virtue” of this kind of behavior to their undergraduates. Shameful.

Colleen Gaines Clark R64

November 24, 2012 at 12:03 pm

We are reminded, yet again, of why Harvard needs a union.Tradition is all very well in some things, but Harvard’s long and disgraceful history of mistreating its lower-paid employees should be discontinued, like yesterday. What a disgrace!

Mary H

November 24, 2012 at 12:56 pm

Harvard top management is directing the harassment of more and more workers while at the same time, refusing to negotiate decent union contracts. The clerical and technical workers union should have had a contract agreement in place by the end of June. Instead, Harvard offers up proposals that will only force a further decline in living standards on thousands of workers at Harvard and we enter the holidays with no agreement and many of us feeling the loss of income as a result of no agreement. As the richest university in the world, instead of setting a high, moral standard in labor relations, the Harvard Corp. has decided to attack the living standards, livelihoods and working conditions of the very people who do the work to make the university function. This is grossly unfair and completely unnecessary given Harvard’s vast (and largely hidden) wealth. The way the mailroom workers are being treated, the way so many of us are being disrespected by Harvard’s rotten labor policies, will not be forgotten. Perhaps President Faust should compare notes with Neil Rudenstine regarding the Living Wage Sit In in 2000 and subsequent re-awakening of the unions on campus. I, for one, feel another occupation coming on. And it’s long overdue.

Jeff Booth

November 24, 2012 at 5:26 pm

Workers control! Workers control! Smash sexism and all other forms of oppression! One big union! A union for all workers!


November 24, 2012 at 6:48 pm

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Harvard Crimson Article on 11/16 Picket Supporting Johany Pilar, Against Rape Culture

Protesters Hold Second Rally for Pilar

A group of roughly 30 people protested on Friday afternoon on behalf of Johany Pilar, a mailroom worker who says that she was sexually harassed by a co-worker.
In an address to the protesters, Pilar told her story about how a male co-worker grabbed her on several occasions and said he wanted to kiss her. After a few supporters gave additional speeches over a microphone outside the Holyoke Center, the group circled the plaza and chanted.
We need help from you all,” Pilar said.
At the end of the rally, she expressed her appreciation to those who had gathered on her behalf.
I would like to say thank you,” Pilar said. “I just want justice. That’s it.”
As part of the rally, the protesters entered the Yard and marched around Massachusetts Hall, which houses University President Drew G. Faust’s office. Pilar and Geoff P. Carens, Pilar’s union representative and a Harvard library assistant, handed an employee at Massachusetts Hall a signed letter that included Pilar’s story and was addressed to Faust. The group subsequently moved to circle the Science Center, the building containing the mailroom where Pilar works.
I think we’re really getting out there in the public eye,” said Carens, who helped organize the rally, led many of the chants, and introduced the speakers.
Pilar has alleged that last spring, a man working with her in the mailroom said he wanted to kiss her and twice grabbed her face. Weeks later, Pilar said, he grabbed her hand.
Pilar said that after she reported the incidents, her managers threatened her with disciplinary action or termination and prevented her from leaving work to see a therapist. Pilar first publicly told her story at a panel on gender inequality and “rape culture” in mid-October. Friday’s event followed an initial rally on Pilar’s behalf last month.
University spokesperson Kevin Galvin has repeatedly declined to comment on the specific case, but he has said that Harvard takes allegations of sexual harassment seriously and “maintains a policy of non-retaliation” so that employees can come forward with complaints, which can then be investigated.
The letter, which Carens said garnered around 75 signatures, included demands that Pilar receive a new supervisor, a removal of disciplinary warnings from her file, and “an end to the pressure and threats.”
—Staff writer Samuel Y. Weinstock can be reached at sweinstock@college.harvard.edu.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Poster for November 16 Action Supporting Johany Pilar! by Noah McKenna

Justice for Johany!

In February and March, Johany Pilar, member of the Harvard Union of Clerical and Technical Workers (HUCTW), was sexually harassed on the job. When she reported the harassment, administrators forbade her from giving hugs at work, as if she were somehow to blame for being harassed. In May a manager insistently demanded she cancel an appointment she had scheduled to deal with the unwanted advances and aggressive physical contact she faced at work. In June another manager confronted Johany and threatened her with a “big, big problem.” This threat was fulfilled in September when Johany received an unfair disciplinary letter warning her she could be terminated. Johany never received any discipline in 15 years’ service at Harvard until she reported being harassed. After a rally in which two co-workers spoke publicly in support of Johany, all three were told they are now considered “essential staff,” meaning they are expected to report for work even in emergency conditions like the recent hurricane. One of the co-workers has diabetic foot disease and walks with braces, and Johany has a heart condition which management knows about. Being compelled to work in emergency weather could put them at physical risk. Don’t let management drive Johany from her job, punish her supporters and isolate her!

Friday November 16, 12 noon
Holyoke Center, 1350 Mass. Ave.

Labor donated.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Article from the Harvard Perspective on Speed-Up and Layoffs in University Financial Services

The piece below was supposed to be an Op Ed for the student newspaper the Harvard Crimson, but it was censored. The liberal magazine the Harvard Perspective then agreed to publish the piece.

Pressure, Panic and Layoffs in University Financial Services

4 Comments 22 October 2012
By Geoff Carens
Pedestrians strolling by Harvard’s impressive buildings might assume that the employees within, especially those fortunate enough to belong to a union, enjoy enviable working conditions. But in one Harvard workplace, University Financial Services (UFS), union members have endured six harrowing months of unrelenting pressure to work faster or risk being laid off. On September 24, UFS managers announced their intention to terminate three employees deemed “not fast enough.” Union members who have young children and elderly dependents face the unemployment line, wondering how they will get by in the months ahead.
In March, Human Resources Officer Michelle Roach told members of the Harvard Union of Clerical and Technical Workers (HUCTW) in UFS that their jobs were being “expanded.” Roach wrote, “The next six months will be considered a transition period… your continuation in this role…is contingent upon your work performance and skills development meeting the needs of your expanded role.” Employees were offered no choice; they had to accept this precarious situation in order to keep their jobs. While a few workers received small salary increases, other staff received no compensation for their increased responsibilities and extra work.
After Roach’s announcement, David Casavant, Manager of Accounts Payable Operations, began calculating average rates for invoice processing by union members. Eventually everyone was under pressure to work at or above the average rate at least 75% of the time. Of course, unless all of the workers processed invoices at exactly the same speed, this benchmark is mathematically impossible for an entire group to achieve. Workers understood that if they did not out-perform their colleagues, they could be fired.
This production pressure was accompanied by other changes. For instance, supervisors began attributing mistakes to the current workweek regardless of when the tasks involved were actually performed. One worker told me she was taken to task, many months later, for 12 or 13 so-called mistakes she had supposedly made back in December 2011, when she was still being trained. At the same time, managers suggested to employees that they would lose their jobs if they did not perform flawlessly. Casavant sent the same message to multiple employees: “…Your error rate [of two or fewer mistakes out of hundreds or thousands of data entries per week] is not acceptable…your progress to date in this area puts you at risk of not succeeding during this transition period.” Management told the UFS staff that their jobs could be outsourced, and then implausibly added that this was not a threat.
Despite their insistence on flawless performance, managers ignored repeated requests for relevant training. Instead, workers say they were sent to classes that “had nothing to do with our jobs.” For instance, an African-American employee, whose first language is English, was told to take a pronunciation class meant for workers who grew up speaking another language, and who lack fluency in English. Incredulous but not wanting to give management any excuse to terminate her, she signed up. Her teacher wrote, “When I assessed you there was very little evidence of any problems with your speech…the fact that you spoke so clearly when we met indicates that you have all the skills you need…I don’t think it makes sense for you to attend the Pronunciation class.” Despite these comments, in a meeting on September 17, various managers claimed they had trouble understanding the employee, who told me that she understandably feels “insulted.”
The pressure to work ever faster without mistakes has negatively impacted employees’ health. One worker had a panic attack at work and left in an ambulance. Another had to take a stress-related disability leave. A third employee, skilled and dependable with 24 years of service, attributes her need to resume taking high blood pressure medication to unending exhortations to speed up at work. The medication compelled her to use the restroom more than other workers; fearful that she would be perceived as lagging, she asked to document the reason for her restroom breaks, but was not allowed to do so. Now she too has taken has taken disability leave.
In a meeting that I attended as a union rep on September 24, Casavant and HR Rep Nicole Breen announced their plan to lay off three of the workers in UFS. All three are over 40 and people of color, and two are African-American women. Breen admitted that there was no reason to terminate anyone due to lack of work in the department, acknowledging “a unique situation [in] that you eliminate jobs without the work going away.” On September 25, Casavant emailed staff in the unit to announce that three temporary workers – not entitled to union wages, benefits, or protections – would be starting the next day, replacing the workers who were no longer in the office. Reportedly these temporary employees have already called in sick several times in their first weeks on the job, and staff who remain are overloaded with work without their experienced colleagues to assist them.
All the pressure, threats of layoff, health consequences for the workers, and now job losses appear to have been completely unnecessary. The UFS work group historically met or beat every deadline, and employees in UFS were routinely pulled off their regular jobs to assist other departments. As Massachusetts’ fifth-largest employer and Cambridge’s largest, Harvard helps set regional employment standards. Concerned community members, pro-labor students, and activists in my union are determined to push for justice for those who face the loss of their jobs. We know their treatment threatens a destructive ripple effect far beyond the walls of University Financial Services.
Geoff Carens is a Union Representative in the Harvard Union of Clerical and Technical Workers and a member of the Industrial Workers of the World. A Library Assistant in Lamont Library, he attends the Harvard Extension School.

Friday, October 19, 2012

10/18 Protest Defending Johany Pilar!

Protesters Gather To Support Pilar

Inspired by Johany Pilar, a worker in Harvard's Mailroom, the Harvard community gathers at the Holyoke Center to protest sexual harassment.
About 65 Harvard employees, students, and community members protested in front of the Holyoke Center early Thursday evening in support of Johany Pilar, a science center mailroom worker who says she was sexually harassed.
For about an hour, protesters listened to several speakers, chanted, and marched in circles. The rally was sponsored by student groups such as Black Harvard Women, Harvard College International Women’s Rights Collective, Harvard Socialists at GSAS, and Harvard Student Labor Action Movement.
“I think that the large number of students who showed up was a testament to the fact that people are angry enough,” Student Labor Action Movement member Kirin Gupta ’16 said. “The protest showed the outrage that Harvard has brought upon itself.”
Pilar, who was present at the protest but did not speak, publicly shared her story for the first time at a Rape Culture Panel hosted by the IWRC last week.
At the panel, Pilar said that a co-worker grabbed her face on two separate occasions last spring and said he wanted to kiss her. Pilar felt uncomfortable and immediately reported the incident to the management, who she said prevented her from attending therapy sessions and threatened her with disciplinary action or termination.
Flyers distributed at the event said that Pilar has filed a complaint with the Massachussetts Commission Against Discrimination.
University spokesperson Kevin Galvin declined to comment on the specific case but said in an emailed statement to the Crimson that the University takes such allegation seriously. The University, he wrote, maintains a “policy of non-retaliation to encourage employees to come forward with complaints so that allegations can be investigated.”
Pilar told The Crimson that the rally demonstrates to others who have been harassed the supportive community surrounding this issue.
“I don’t want to shut my mouth,” Pilar said.
Geoffrey P. Carens, a library assistant and Pilar’s representative in the Harvard Union of Clerical Technical Workers, led many of the protest’s chants and introduced its speakers. He said that the purpose of the event was to raise public awareness about Pilar’s situation and sexual harassment in general.
Protesters said that they want Harvard to respond directly to Pilar’s case and change their policies in handling workers’ grievances.
“We want Harvard to issue a formal apology to Johany and make sure that she never has to work with that man again,” Amanda Haziz-Ginsberg, a recent Divinity School graduate and member of Harvard Socialists at GSAS, said. “Enough is enough. We will not put up with this.”
—Staff writer Michelle Denise L. Fereol can be reached at mferreol@college.harvard.edu.
—Staff writer Samuel Y. Weinstock can be reached at sweinstock@college.harvard.edu.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

10/18/12 Action Supporting HUCTW Member Johany Pilar, Retaliated against for Reporting Sexual Harassment

Defend Johany Pilar! Fight Rape Culture in the Workplace

Since 1998, HUCTW member Johany Pilar has worked in Harvard's Science Center Mail Room. She first reported unwanted advances and physical contact from a co-worker in March of this year. Ever since she complained about sexual harassment, Johany has faced retaliation from managers. She's experienced pressure, unequal treatment compared to co-workers, and threats.

On September 14, Johany received an unfair disciplinary warning threatening her with being fired. Johany has never been warned for anything in all her years at Harvard. She has started a lawsuit with the MA Commission Against Discrimination (MCAD).

Please come to an action supporting Johany and all those who stand up against gender discrimination, sexual harassment, & for their right to fair and equal treatment on the job!

Join us Thursday, October 18 at 5 pm, @ Harvard's Holyoke Center, 1350 Mass. Ave., Cambridge! For more information email: JusticeforJohany@gmail.com.

Open Letter to Harvard's Labor Relations Dept. on HUCTW Member Johany Pilar

October 9, 2012
An Open Letter to the Community
Addressing Labor and Employee Relations at Harvard University
We are writing to raise an important issue regarding the treatment of Harvard University Clerical and Technical Workers member Ms. Johany Pilar. We understand that on 3/2/12, 4/4/12 and 4/10/12, Ms. Pilar reported unwanted advances and physical contact from a co-worker. Apparently Ms. Pilar was instructed to train the co-worker even after reporting this harrassment. During the training she experienced more unwelcome physical contact. We understand that on 5/9/12, Ms. Pilar’s supervisor Chris Tolkacz insistently pressured Ms. Johany to cancel a therapy appointment she had set up because of the sexual harassment. Mr. Tolkacz apparently made this demand repeatedly, despite knowing the reason for Ms. Pilar’s appointment. We have learned that this interaction was so upsetting that it caused Ms. Pilar to have a panic attack in the workplace, which she had to leave by ambulance.  Ms. Pilar was subsequently admitted to Mount Auburn Hospital suffering from “severe anxiety.”

We understand that on 5/31/12, Ms. Pilar was denied a reasonable accommodation to her back pain by management. Although her doctor cleared her to return to work, with the sole restriction that she not lift more than ten pounds, management refused to allow her to return to work, using the excuse that it was not possible to monitor the weights of packages in the mailroom. This seems clearly specious, as many of the packages reportedly bear labels recording their weight. Ms. Pilar lost an entire week’s wages due to management’s denying her accommodation. We are informed that on 6/5/12, Betsy Shortell, Manager of University Mail Services, confronted Ms. Pilar in the workplace, repeatedly asked her the same questions, and, despite all of Ms. Pilar’s responses being polite and appropriate, accused Ms. Pilar of ignoring her, and stated, “If in the future I am talking to you and you avoid me, you will have a big, big problem with me.”

We have learned that on 8/28/12, Ms. Pilar visited Urgent Care and was prescribed anti-inflammatory and muscle relaxant medication for throat pain and inflammation. On 9/1/12, she awoke to find that her throat pain had worsened and that she was unable to talk, and could barely swallow. She reported a sick day in Harvard’s PeopleSoft system, which she had been using for months to report sick days. On 9/5/12, Ms. Pilar made a request for extra hours and was told by Betsy Shortell, “Before we discuss extra hours, we need to sit down and talk about your unexcused absence Saturday, September 1.” We are informed that Ms. Shortell telephoned Ms. Pilar and stated that if she did not meet with Shortell and HR, she would be fired. On 9/7/12, Ms. Pilar provided management with a doctor’s letter stating that she needed to stay out of work for the next three days because of the condition in her throat. Despite this, on 9/14/12, management issued a written warning which stated she had failed to follow time off request procedures and was required when reporting a sick day “to speak to a management person live.” This written warning skipped over the verbal warning step in the HUCTW disciplinary process, and made no allowances for Ms. Pilar’s abundantly documented throat pain and inflammation. We regard it as another instance of the harassment, threats and unfair treatment that Ms. Pilar has faced since reporting sexual harassment in the workplace. We understand that Ms. Pilar, who has worked at Harvard since 1998, never received any discipline before she reported the unwanted advances and physical contact on the job. Ms. Pilar has filed a lawsuit with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (MCAD) due to the retaliation she has faced.

Students in support of Johany Pilar have taken notice. We are disturbed by the way Ms. Pilar has been treated in her workplace. We stand in solidarity with a woman who appears to have been denied the right to speak out without repercussions in the face of consistent harassment and discrimination.  When a worker is disciplined as a result of speaking up about sexual harassment, it is not only an injustice to that individual, but also serves to normalize harassment more broadly by silencing victims and emboldening harassers.  A system that does not take sexual harassment seriously ultimately serves to reinforce rape culture, the set of attitudes, norms and practices that allow for sexual violence that persists in our community.

We demand that the University rescind the discipline against Ms. Pilar, provide her with a new supervisor, and give departmental managers the training they need to treat workers who have reported sexual harassment appropriately in the future. We believe that these steps are necessary in maintaining a workplace consistent with the values advanced in Harvard’s Non-Discrimination Policy.

We hope that Ms. Pilar’s story will bring attention to the many ways rape culture affects our community. We pledge to support Ms. Johany Pilar in her struggle to secure fair treatment by our university and urge you to join us to show your solidarity.

Global Health and Aids Coalition
Harvard International Women’s Rights Collective
Harvard John Reed Society
Harvard Student Labor Action Movement
Harvard Socialists
Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), Boston General Membership Branch
Harvard College Dominican Students' Association
Association of Black Harvard Women
Harvard Queer Students and Allies
Harvard Socialists at GSAS

Harvard Crimson article about HUCTW member Johany Pilar

Mailroom Worker Alleges Harassment

On Wednesday October 10, members of the Harvard community gather to discuss rape culture.
The room fell silent seconds before Science Center mail clerk Johany Pilar spoke at the panel discussion on gender inequality on “rape culture” on Wednesday.
“Maybe you don’t remember me,” she began softly. “But I have been here for a really long time.”
Pilar clutched at her throat, which was hurting, and asked the more than 20 students who had gathered in a tiny Boylston classroom to be patient with her. Though her every word required obvious effort, she wanted to be heard.
“I am here because what happened to me could happen to you tomorrow,” she said. “I don’t want that.
”Late last February, Pilar said, she became the victim of sexual harassment by one of her co-workers in the freshman mailroom. She said her co-worker, “bigger and older” than her, grabbed her face between his thumb and pointer finger and said that he wanted to kiss her.
Pilar said that she felt uncomfortable and immediately told her co-worker not to touch her again. Despite apologizing after the first incident, she said, the man repeated the same behavior again just a few days later.
“He did it again. He grabbed my face,” Pilar said, mimicking the man’s grip on her face with her own hand. “He did it again!”
Pilar said she then contacted a female manager of University Mail Services about the harassment by email. Pilar said that in response, the manager told her to stop hugging people and to try to be nice and work professionally. No action was taken against her co-worker, she said.
In April, Pilar said, the same co-worker grabbed her hand twice. She reported that incident to another mail services supervisor, who said that he would reassign the man so he would no longer come in contact with her, Pilar said.
Overcome by stress due to the harassment, she said, she started seeing a therapist and was admitted to Mount Auburn Hospital after a panic attack in May. She felt that she was being pressured by managers because she had reported the harassment; in September, she said, she received a written message informing her that she could be fired for an unreported absence.
“I’m not going to shut my mouth. I’m not afraid,” she said. “I’m not doing this for me to be in the mailroom working, but for justice.”
Wednesday evening marked the first time that Pilar spoke about her sexual harassment experience in a public forum, and she plans to continue to make her story public. At the panel, hosted by the International Women’s Rights Collective and several other organizations to discuss gender inequality, Pilar asked students for their support. A flyer handed out at the panel said that on Oct. 18, students will gather at the Holyoke Center to support Pilar and “stand up against gender discrimination, sexual harassment, & for their right to fair and equal treatment on the job.”
Harvard Union of Clerical and Technical Workers representative Geoffrey Carens, who is helping Pilar make her story known, was also present at the event.
“Johany has really taken it on the chin for what she has done,” he said. “She has been incredibly, incredibly brave.”
Carens said that he helped Pilar file a complaint with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination at the beginning of the month. That complaint will be assigned to an investigator in the state office.
Meanwhile, Pilar is involved in the grievance filing process through HUCTW as well. Bill Jaeger, the director of HUCTW, said privacy rules prevented him from discussing Pilar’s case specifically. But he commented, “We have a union management grievance process that we really believe in, that works extremely well to bring about fair outcomes.”
Pilar, who is originally from the Dominican Republic, said she has previously faced domestic violence. Working at Harvard since 1998, she said she has maintained a spotless disciplinary record.
Students at the event said that they saw Pilar’s story as an isolated incident reflecting harassment that happens frequently among college students as well.“
We don’t really talk about sexual assault even though it’s something that affects our lives. Most of the time, we even engage in ‘victim-blaming’,” said Kate Sim ’14, president of the International Women’s Rights Collective. “This is a mindset that has to be changed. How are we expected to be students here if we don’t even feel safe to speak up?”
—Samuel Y. Weinstock contributed to the reporting of this article.
—Staff writer Michelle Denise L. Ferreol can be reached at mferreol@college.harvard.edu.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Open Letter from HUCTW office

We are re-posting this letter to reach as many people as possible.  Comments and reactions are encouraged.

Troubled Negotiations Need a Whole
Community’s Active Engagement

An Open Letter from the Harvard Union of Clerical and Technical Workers
July 2012
After nearly a year of research and preparation and three months of intensive negotiation, representatives of the Harvard Union of Clerical and Technical Workers (HUCTW) and the University have still not agreed on terms of a new contract to replace the Agreement that expired on June 30, 2012.  HUCTW and Harvard have agreed to extend the terms of the old Agreement indefinitely and to continue negotiating.  But it is now mid-July, two weeks past the end of the previous contract, and the negotiations need to enter a new phase, which will require the support and active engagement of a broader Harvard community.  
The University and HUCTW have a long and celebrated history of accomplishment, acting together constructively and creatively as partners. For 24 years, Union members, administrators, and faculty members have engaged in constructive conversations, tackled difficult issues, and developed innovative plans. But that positive, productive spirit is threatened by developments in the current negotiation. This is a critical time for Union members and friends to get involved and support our efforts to move forward with positive and innovative changes.

This Open Letter from HUCTW leaders is long, but we urge you to read it in its entirety, to learn about the issues under discussion and the sticking points in negotiations. The three policy areas in which HUCTW negotiators have encountered significant resistance from the University are the salary increase program, health care, and the bargaining unit.

HUCTW and Harvard have negotiated 23 annual increases for members of our Union since 1989. The current talks on a raise program for July 1, 2012, may be the most complicated and difficult to date.
Negotiations on wages are revealing deep differences of perspective about how thoroughly Harvard has recovered from the losses of 2008-09, and how optimistically we can return to strategies emphasizing investment and growth, including investment in the staff. HUCTW negotiators have pointed to powerful indicators showing that Harvard has regained a firm financial footing and is entering a period of ambitious growth.  In our Union’s view, after nearly three years of constraint and sacrifice, current financial conditions are strong and staff salary growth needs to be solid in the coming years. Conversely, University representatives are expressing concerns about constrained revenue growth in future years and insisting that caution is necessary, based on uncertainty about endowment returns and the possibility of reduced government funding for science research.
While many of the projects announced in recent months – EdX, the renovation of undergraduate residential houses, and new academic programming in the College and professional schools – are important and exciting, there is a stark and troubling contrast between the optimistic air of new activity that crackles across the campus today and the cries for extreme caution about staff salaries that we hear in our contract talks. In the same way our University’s leaders clearly believe it is critical to invest in our buildings and programs, the institution needs to understand the staff as critically important contributors to Harvard’s greatness, and return to significant investment in salary growth for HUCTW members.
We have come to believe that the University has regained its fiscal fitness based on the following factors: 
  • Harvard has maintained a clean balance sheet (no deficit spending) during every year of the financial crisis, from Fiscal Year 2008 through FY 2011.
  • In the aggregate, Harvard schools and departments have abundant reserves, well in excess of accepted standards for sufficient “rainy day” funds.
  • The endowment has regained much of the value it lost in 2008, enough so that endowment funds distributed to the schools for operations have increased significantly (by 4% and 5%) in the past two years.
  • Bold plans have been announced for renovating the undergraduate residential houses and for restarting construction of a new Allston campus.
Perhaps most important, every day Union members can see examples of Harvard returning to confident, expansive planning and spending.  A number of recent events demonstrate that Harvard administrators have moved away from the cautious and pessimistic outlook of recent years:
  • Earlier this year, the University committed $30 million to EdX – a collaboration with MIT to offer courses online and free to the public.
  • The number of staff jobs posted on ASPIRE (Harvard’s online job-posting system) has reached record high levels.  At this writing, there are nearly 430 new positions advertised on ASPIRE.
  • Although the officially announced salary program for non-union “exempt” staff provided for 2% raises last year, HUCTW analysis of data on average exempt salaries shows that, among those non-union staff, the average full-time salary grew by 3.1% last year.  On top of that, exempt staff received an additional 1% in bonuses for last year. The average HUCTW full-time rate increased by 3.0% in the same period, with minimal bonus activity.
HUCTW and Harvard representatives have been wrestling with philosophical differences on health care for several years now.  Copayments, retiree health, and efforts to reduce the financial burden on lower-paid employees are the most contentious issues on the table currently.
Everyone understands that the rising cost of health care is a shared problem that places strains on institutional budgets and on the family finances of staff and retirees. Too often in past years, University administrators have focused on cost-shifting strategies that reduce the employer’s costs by increasing employee copayments.  Union leaders have often felt unheard when putting forward strategies for “bending the curve” by lowering total costs for both the employer and employees, or redistributing the cost burden more fairly.
University representatives have reacted cautiously and hesitantly to the ideas HUCTW has introduced in negotiations, described in the bullets below. This is especially frustrating to Union members because the set of ideas HUCTW has advanced in these negotiations would reduce the University’s health care cost by more than a half-million dollars in 2013, with the promise of millions more in savings for future years.  Even more important, a thoughtfully balanced package would usher in a new era of creative collaboration focused on fair, affordable health care for employees and smart, progressive cost containment for the University.
These contrasting views continue to play out in the current negotiation, as the two sides struggle in several key areas:
  • Union leaders believe that Harvard’s plan to introduce new coinsurance for retirees with an “out-of-pocket” maximum of $1,000 per year is too great a cost for lower-income retirees.
  • HUCTW negotiators are proposing changes in the formula for employee contributions to monthly health care premiums – changes that would be cost-neutral for the University. We support a more progressive plan in which the premium burden on lower-income employees could be eased by enacting a small increase in premium rates for Harvard’s highest paid employees.
  • Union leaders are willing to agree to incremental increases in copayments for active employees, but we are insisting that they should be part of a balanced package that recognizes differences in income among members of our community.
  • HUCTW is also presenting important proposals for collaborative educational efforts to reduce health care costs by supporting better health consumer decisions and expanding wellness programs.
For more than two years now, Union and University leaders have engaged in intensive discussions on disagreements about what types of jobs are eligible to be included in HUCTW. (The issue was given priority status in 2010 negotiations, and serious talks have been ongoing in the Joint Committee on the Bargaining Unit.) The crux of the difficulty is this:  HUCTW leaders believe that there is significant confusion and inconsistency across the University in the application of legal standards for “exempt” status under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), particularly in Salary Grades 55 and 56.  As a result, some hundreds of jobs are questionably classified as exempt, and staff members working in those positions are potentially being denied the benefits of inclusion in HUCTW. 
HUCTW and Harvard officials have studied and discussed the problem of FLSA exemption practices and their implications on union status extensively. We have read US Department of Labor “Opinion Letters,” reviewed hundreds of job postings and position descriptions, and conferred with key stakeholders including Human Resources professionals. At this point, HUCTW leaders believe strongly that the issue has been studied sufficiently, and it is time to take action. 
We have tried to be patient and reasonable about resolving bargaining unit questions.  Union negotiators are not demanding that the entire complex issue has to be resolved right now.  We are insisting that meaningful action needs to begin soon, at least on some of the most glaring examples of inappropriate exclusion from the bargaining unit. The bargaining unit and FLSA problem should be seen as an area of deep mutual interest – in the present, confused state, the University risks non-compliance with a federal law.  At the same time, HUCTW is eager to help resolve confusing cases, and to help develop clear and consistent standards on the use of exemptions and inclusion in the Union.
As in the health care negotiations, Harvard representatives have responded nervously to Union suggestions about steps toward resolving our bargaining unit differences. The bargaining unit problems are technically complex and politically charged, but should be manageable if we take a serious, thoughtful, and collaborative approach. After more than two years of patient, diligent review, it is time to begin that work in earnest.
To be sure, there are difficult issues in this negotiation. Rising health care cost is a critical societal challenge that confounds policy-makers, employers, and families across the country.  Bargaining unit issues are always charged and complicated.  And questions about Harvard’s internal economy and the course of our recovery from the Great Recession are confusing for some at the moment.  At the same time, the University and HUCTW, working in mature and skillful partnership, should be able to collaborate productively on these issues.  So far in the 2012 negotiations, our Union’s efforts to establish a serious, constructive tone have not borne fruit.
For 24 years, HUCTW and Harvard have worked together – on divisive issues or areas of huge overlapping interest, in good and bad economic times.  Our Union has been a committed and principled partner, willing to work hard on tough policy questions and always ready with innovative new ideas about making Harvard fairer, stronger, and better. We have advocated strongly for solutions that benefit not just HUCTW members but the whole community.
That willingness and constructive spirit on the part of HUCTW has never been clearer than it was during the financial crisis of 2009-2011, when our members all across the campus did more and better with less and adjusted to painfully changed economic realities.  But now it is 2012.  If HUCTW and the University are going to thrive in partnership for our second quarter-century, Harvard administrators will need to match the Union’s determination, resourcefulness, and readiness to engage in the persistent listening, thoughtful consideration, and confident innovation that lead to good policies and a great workplace.
In the next few weeks, HUCTW leaders and members all across the University will be reaching out to colleagues in the faculty, non-union staff, students, and friends in the community to broaden the discussion about issues in our negotiation.  We hope that many in the community will share our hopes for a fair and progressive set of policies.  We will ask our friends to support our efforts to negotiate a contract that sets an impressive example of what a great University and a strong Union can do when they strive as partners for institutional greatness, deal with tough problems, and search steadfastly for balanced solutions.
Please contact HUCTW at 617-661-8289 or huctw.info@huctw.org if you have questions or ideas, or to find out more about how you can help work toward a good outcome in the negotiations.
HUCTW Executive Board and Organizing Staff
Tasha Williams, President
Laura Ebenstein, Vice President
Pam Mullaney, Treasurer
Lynn Wang DeLacey, Secretary
Geraldine Barney, Observatory
Joslyn Evans, AAD
Frank Garcia, UFS
Andrea Kupski-Keane, FAS
Margaret Moore DeChicojay, GSD
Mike Piantigini, HMS
Siobhan Saint Surin, HSPH
Lesley Schoenfeld, HLS
Esther Simmons, HBS
Steve Sweeney, UIS
Emily Vides, FAS
Harvey Willson, HSDM
Kate Zirpolo Flynn, SEAS
Missouri Ammons
Carrie Barbash
Peter Berry
Gloria Buffonge
Alex Chisholm
Randi Ellingboe
Joie Gelband
Thomasin Guenard
Emily Hankle
Bill Jaeger
Adrienne Landau
Marie Manna
Shamim Morani
Rachael School
Ann Sjostedt
Donene Williams
Harvard Union of Clerical and Technical Workers    617-661-8289    www.huctw.org

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Occupy Harvard to join 5/24 No Layoffs Action!

Occupy Harvard To Protest at Commencement
Members of the Occupy Harvard movement plan to demonstrate at Commencement on Thursday in protest of the potential layoffs of Harvard University Library staff, according to a press release distributed by the movement.
Occupiers plan to gather outside the Holyoke Center before making their way into the Yard, where Commencement takes place.
The protest, which is slated to include undergraduates, graduate students, and members of the Harvard Union for Clerical and Technical Workers, comes after 65 library workers took a voluntary early retirement package following an announcement by library leadership in January that the library restructuring may include layoffs.
Although the University has not said for certain that it will lay off workers, Occupy Harvard is protesting because “administrators have never lifted their threats to cut even more jobs,” according to the press release.
Jennifer A. Sheehy-Skeffington, a graduate student in psychology and an occupier, said that the No-Layoffs-Campaign is important because a smaller staff would damage what Occupiers view as an already strained library system.
“This is important because the library workers have been threatened at a time when the library is already really suffering,” Sheehy-Skeffington said.
On the Occupy Harvard blog, Occupy leaders wrote that they organized the protest in order to bring the issue to the attention of people from across the Harvard community, including alumni and parents, “to expose the damage that has been done to the libraries already, and how much more harm further cuts would inflict.”
Skeffington added that the protest is not just about the library-specific cuts, but also about the University’s approach toward labor.
“This kind of cost-cutting, corporate approach is very disappointing,” she said.
Skeffington said that she hopes students will appreciate how cuts and restructuring could endanger the entire library system, one of the “most valuable aspects of the college.” She said that the proposed plan would mean that students would be deprived of the chance to work closely with library specialists, while more skilled library workers would be working in centralized jobs that would not take advantage of their expertise.
—Staff writer Mercer R. Cook can be reached at mcook@college.harvard.edu.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

MAY 24 11 a.m. - 2 p.m. Union members protest layoff threats at Harvard's Commencement exercises! 1350 Mass. Ave. Cambridge (Harvard Red line T).

Even though 65 library staff members have reluctantly accepted a meager "early retirement" deal, HU's administrators refuse to lift their threats to cut even more jobs. The library workforce is already almost a third smaller than it was in '09, which has led, predictably, to diminished library assistance and services. Rank & file members of the Harvard Union of Clerical & Technical Workers will avail themselves of the opportunity to reach out to students, alumni and families. We plan to expose the damage that has been done to the libraries already, and how much more harm further cuts would inflict. Please join us! We'll gather at Harvard's Holyoke Center, 1350 Massachusetts Avenue, starting at 11 a.m.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Library Staff Raise Concerns at Panel Discussion

Library Staff Raise Concerns at Panel Discussion

Janet Katz, a senior research librarian at the Harvard Law School Library, speaks about the recent cost-cutting measures at Harvard libraries. She was one of the speakers at the Harvard Forum on the Future of Libraries on Tuesday.

At a panel discussion on the reorganization of Harvard’s library system, faculty members and library staff members voiced many of the concerns pertaining to librarians’ job security, the future quality of the library system, and communication and commitment from Mass. Hall that have all plagued the reorganization effort since the January announcement that the restructuring would involve staffing cuts.

During the discussion on Tuesday, University Librarian Robert C. Darnton ’60 said that there had been “a series of catastrophic misunderstandings” during the reorganization process but assured the crowd that “those of us in the library take this [dialogue] very seriously.”
He said that “the impression [among staff] that there would be sudden, brutal, [and] massive layoffs” was not true. At this point, he said, administrators “don’t have any idea of what the size of the staff will be.”

More than four weeks after announcing that the library would shrink its workforce without revealing how many workers it would cut nor how it would select them, the University offered long-time employees a voluntary retirement package in February.

History professor Lisa M. McGirr called upon the University to think beyond financial cares when making decisions about the size of the staff.

“Harvard is, and should continue to be, more than that,” McGirr said. “Efficiency can be a good thing and doesn’t require layoffs—we should proceed with great care and caution.”

But the discussion on Tuesday covered topics beside the looming threat of involuntary layoffs which has sparked numerous protests on campus throughout the semester.

Harvard Union of Clerical and Technical Workers Director Bill Jaeger, who was unable to attend the forum, said that he perceives the University’s message to have moved away from the subject of layoffs since the “stark announcement of January 19.”

“I think the ongoing conversation among the library staff is changing and is less concerned about avoiding layoffs and more concerned about other parts of the library organizational design that are also really important,” Jaeger said.

The conversation on Tuesday followed that tack.

Darnton acknowledged that stakeholders are concerned about service quality from the library and said he shared those worries.

“I was upset to see that services had declined in many ways,” he said.

But he said that the University’s support for the libraries has not decreased; if it had, he said, he would have resigned.

Janet Katz, a librarian on the panel, said she was specifically anxious about the cataloging of volumes in the near future.

“I know how excellent HOLLIS is,” Katz said about the library’s online catalog system, “and I just hate to think it would become any less.”

Panelist and classics professor Richard F. Thomas said he had been disappointed by the level of faculty and librarian involvement in the decision-making process thus far. “We need more than just conversations between the people who are putting [in] the system and librarians,” he said. “We need actual input from librarians who are willing to give it and have the expertise to give it. I think librarians and faculty embrace change, but that change has to be change that doesn’t diminish the quality of the libraries in all media.”

—Staff writer Dan Dou can be reached at ddou@college,harvard.edu.
—Staff writer Samuel Y. Weinstock can be reached at sweinstock@college.harvard.edu.