Friday, February 24, 2012

Library, HUCTW to Negotiate Through “Joint Councils”

The Harvard Union of Clerical and Technical Workers will form three “joint councils” with Harvard Library management to negotiate the library system’s reorganization, according to a University spokesperson.
HUCTW Director Bill Jaeger said that union leadership proposed the formation of the councils late last week in an effort to improve communication between HUCTW and the University.
“We’ve been frustrated that there wasn’t more serious discussion going on about some of the crucial transition details and that there wasn’t better opportunity for our members to participate in thinking about how to build a greater library,” Jaeger said.
The reorganization has been a point of contention between the University and library workers since Harvard University Library Executive Director Helen Shenton announced on Jan. 19 that the library workforce would be trimmed down as the University moves forward with restructuring its library system.
A University spokesperson said that the three councils will be formed in accordance with the union’s contract with the University and will meet regularly starting in early March and through June 2012.
Joint councils will be formed to represent the Access Services, Technical Services, and Preservation and Digital Services departments, Jaeger said. The councils will be comprised of eight to ten people with equal numbers of union and Harvard Library representatives.
In addition, Jaeger said that HUCTW is currently working on an “open letter” that will be circulated through the Harvard community next week to garner sympathy for the union.
“We think that if faculty and students can see as our members see...they’re going to be concerned about deteriorating quality in the current library,” Jaeger said.
The letter will discuss the union’s concerns that the libraries are already understaffed and that outsourcing of services such as cataloguing might weaken the library system, Jaeger said.
“We want to pay particular attention to the question of what are the minimum staffing levels needed to have a great library,” Jaeger said. “We think that our community is very much in danger of not really having a world-class library.”
On Wednesday, HUCTW leadership sent an email to inform its members of the formation of the joint councils. Library assistant Karen L. O’Brien, a HUCTW representative, expressed skepticism about the effectiveness of the councils, saying that the University has provided the union few details thus far.
O’Brien said that despite numerous attempts from workers to give input to the reorganization, the University has been nonresponsive and “close-mouthed.”
Jeffrey W. Booth, also a library assistant and HUCTW member, said the councils would do nothing to mitigate the threat of layoffs, calling it a “regressive step.”
“They’re extremely ineffectual and often only take up minor issues,” Booth said. “I’m sure Harvard management is so happy.”
Booth, dissatisfied with the formation of councils, said that his union needs to respond more visibly to the University’s recent announcement. He suggested that the union conduct inclusive, membership-wide meetings that could lead to a strike vote, a large rally, or a sit-in of Massachusetts Hall.
“It feels like David and Goliath...but if David didn’t have a slingshot,” Booth said. “The union leadership is not arming the membership.”
Jaeger said that while HUCTW’s ultimate goal is to build a great library, the union is also striving to improve relations between workers and library management.
“We’d like to rebuild some trust and build some better relationships between union members and the key management leaders of the transition,” Jaeger said. “I think a lot of our members are quite deeply frustrated, and union leaders are as well. The state of the library workplace at this point, as far as we can tell, is basically chaos and demoralized disarray.”
—Staff writer Dan Dou can be reached at
—Staff writer Samuel Y. Weinstock can be reached at

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