Culminating 17 years of organizing and negotiating, the Harvard Union of Clerical and Technical Workers announced Monday that it had reached tentative agreement on its first contract with Harvard University.
The three-year contract would provide for substantial wage increases, benefit improvements and ground-breaking terms on child care, family policy and labor-management relations at the Cambridge, Mass., school, according to Kristine Rondeau, the union's chief organizer.
"From our first step to organize Harvard back in the '70s to the agreement we reached last night, our union's goal has been to get our members on the other side of Harvard's doors into the rooms where decisions affecting workers' lives are made," Rondeau said Monday. "We stand on the verge of making that goal a reality.
"We wanted to show that a union can win strong economic improvements and simultaneously develop a promising and forward-thinking relationship between the union and the university," she added.
The union represents 3,500 office, laboratory and library workers, ranging from secretaries to scientific instrument makers. A ratification vote on the proposed contract has been set for Thursday. About 80% of the work force is female.
The Harvard union is affiliated with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, one of the country's largest unions. In recent years, AFSCME has put more than a million dollars into the Harvard campaign, which was viewed as a key test of the American labor movement's ability to organize office workers and other employees in so-called "new collar" jobs that contain elements of both traditional white collar and blue collar work.
The contract calls for 32% wage increases over the next three years; substantial increases in pensions, including the addition of a cost-of-living-adjustment clause; a new short-term disability plan that includes eight weeks of maternity leave at 70% of salary and a special benefit that provides a week of paid leave for fathers of newborn children and the parents of newly adopted children.
The contract mandates major changes in the way jobs are classified and substantially increases the ability of veteran employees to get their jobs reclassified, leading to better pay and pension benefits. This was a major concern of many veteran women workers who believed that their jobs had been systematically devalued.
Another major innovation in the contract is the creation of a system of "works councils" at sites around the campus that are designed to deal with long-term changes in the workplace. Workers also will be given a voice in technological change that will affect their jobs.
"It sounds like Harvard is trying to become a family friendly employer," said Ralph Whitehead, a University of Massachusetts professor who has been studying changes in the workplace. "Given the years of rancor that characterized the relationship (between Harvard and the union), it's a pleasant surprise to hear that they've not just come up with a settlement but an innovative settlement."