May 5 Update
It has been eight weeks since Harvard administrators announced that the campus would close due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the remainder of the spring academic term would take place online. The majority of HUCTW members are working remotely, observing government stay-at-home advisories, adapting to new technologies and changing job roles, caring for children with schools and daycares closed, and protecting at-risk loved ones. Members still reporting to work on campus are coping with challenging circumstances, trying to stay safe and perform important jobs despite operational disruptions. At the same time, other members have been unable to work due to the nature of their jobs or personal circumstance.
This message is an important update on HUCTW’s efforts to protect jobs and maintain pay and benefits as uncertainty continues to swirl around the financial and operational impacts of the pandemic at Harvard, as well as related public health concerns and economic events.
University Communications About Job Security & Pay
At the end of March, senior Harvard administrators announced that the University would guarantee continuing pay and benefits through May 28 for all regular employees across the campus and also for most contingent and contracted workers. That outcome was applauded by HUCTW and other unions as a fair and principled step.
University officials have not communicated further about any specific campus-wide plans concerning the security of jobs and pay after May 28, either publicly or in the weekly union-management meetings that HUCTW leaders hold with Harvard administrators.
However, in mid-April, in a message headlined “Economic Impact of COVID-19,” senior Harvard officials noted that it might be necessary to enact cost reductions in the coming months, possibly “including layoffs or furloughs.” Understandably, many HUCTW members are asking whether they are likely to be affected by layoffs or furloughs. Harvard administrators have not announced or communicated with our Union’s leaders about any specific University-wide or school-level plans that would cause job losses or furloughs.
We have asked many urgent questions in our weekly meetings with Harvard administrators, hoping to hear more about the substance of financial difficulties that would lead University administrators to raise the broad prospect of furloughs and layoffs:
- What is the scope of the costs associated with sudden closure of the campus this spring?
- What are the administration’s estimates of revenue lost due to disrupted University operations?
- How much value has the Harvard endowment lost in recent months?
Harvard officials have not yet provided specific answers to these questions. Without real and specific data, it is not possible for thoughtful members of the Harvard community to understand the depth of financial challenges facing our University, or consider what types of sacrifices might be appropriate or how those burdens should be shared fairly. HUCTW cannot propose or evaluate potential solutions if the University is not yet able to define the problem.
Key Principles for University Cost Reductions
Even as we continue to urge Harvard administrators to discuss these critical details as soon as possible, we can identify some broad overarching principles that we believe the University needs to apply when contemplating any substantial economizing measures:
- If cost cutting is necessary, the initial focus should be on reducing departmental expenses that do not have a human cost, such as expenditures on travel, food, office equipment, etc. University leaders have already begun making these types of cuts, but once the Harvard’s financial challenges are fully understood, every possible cut–outside of staffing–needs to be thoroughly explored.
- If staff reductions are necessary, voluntary layoffs and/or furloughs should be offered before any involuntary decisions.
- If further income-reducing measures are needed, they should be distributed progressively in a systematic and transparent way, based on who can afford to bear the most burden. Highly paid managers and executives–of which there are many at Harvard–can bear a larger financial loss than lower paid staff. If there need to be substantial losses in income, those losses should start at the top and be concentrated at the top.
- Most importantly, all possible alternatives to involuntary layoffs or furloughs need to be thoroughly explored before any decisions are made. For our members, the Harvard-HUCTW contract states that University leaders need to work with Union leaders to ensure that “every effort should be made to ensure the security of employment.” This includes ideas like the ones above, but also other solutions that we can only identify once Harvard is able to provide HUCTW with specific details about what financial challenges the University is facing.
As we all know, teaching, learning, and research at the University could not occur without the indispensable contributions of Harvard’s dedicated employees. Whatever the University’s financial losses, Harvard has a responsibility to limit the economic pain of those losses on staff as much as possible.
Many of these ideas above echo positive statements made by President Bacow in his most recent communication–we look forward to seeing those progressive promises fulfilled as we enter into the necessary discussions around Harvard’s financial challenges and their impact on staff. Given that Harvard’s traditional approach to administrative and financial policy-making assigns major responsibility to the separate units, HUCTW leaders expect these negotiations will be primarily with administrators in the separate schools and departments.
Contractual Obligations & Protections
The President’s message also prompted questions from Union members about what protections exist in the Harvard-HUCTW Agreement if layoffs or furloughs are being discussed and what strategies and resources are available to us to prevent or reduce negative impacts:
- LAYOFFS: A layoff occurs when a job is permanently eliminated. Our union contract provides members with strong protections against unnecessary or arbitrary layoff decisions and generous assistance for minimizing financial losses. As noted above, our Agreement says that “every effort should be made to ensure the security of employment” when considering changes that would have a negative impact on staff. The University is obliged to consult with the Union before finalizing any plans for layoffs, to provide information about the basis for layoffs and allow for the development of alternative proposals. Our Work Security program allows a laid off member to continue with full pay and benefits for up to eight months after notification if necessary while looking for a new job. You can read about these negotiated policies in more detail on the section of our website devoted to Layoffs and Work Security.
- FURLOUGHS: Generally speaking, a furlough is a temporary, involuntary unpaid leave of absence for a specified period of time with an assured return to regular paid status at the end of the furlough. As the policy idea is usually applied, a staff member on furlough would not work and would not be paid but would maintain employee status and continue to be enrolled in benefits programs such as health insurance. Furloughs are not described in the HUCTW-Harvard Agreement. As a result, the University would be obliged to negotiate with HUCTW if it wanted to implement a furlough program that would affect members of our Union. As mentioned above, in any talks on the subject of furloughs, HUCTW leaders would be determined in any talks on the subject of furloughs to make sure that every possible cost-cutting alternative is considered rather than reducing pay, and that financial burdens are shared fairly and progressively within the organization.
- TERM POSITIONS: There is also concern expressed by some HUCTW members about staff in “term positions” – these staff have jobs with a specific end date in the HR and payroll systems. The HUCTW Agreement allows for term positions in “situations where departments have a legitimate temporary staffing need” including “positions with external funding or project work with a clearly-defined and time-bounded scope.” Under the contract, members in term positions of less than two years are not eligible for layoff benefits when their positions end on the stated term end date. However, if a term job continues for more than two years then the staff member is covered by all of the contract provisions for layoffs and Work Security when the position ends. There has been active discussion within HUCTW in recent years, and in previous rounds of negotiations between our Union and the University, about problems with overuse of the term position designation in situations that are not legitimately temporary staffing needs, and the Harvard-HUCTW contract provides an expedited meditation process for resolving these disagreements.
HUCTW leaders are deeply committed to strong, active efforts to prevent unnecessary job and pay losses of any kind – whether at the University level or in individual schools or departments. We are also eager to engage with members who have ideas, questions, or concerns about the security of employment, pay, and benefits, including creative solutions for preventing losses and resolving financial challenges reasonably and fairly. Please don’t hesitate to contact HUCTW leaders with whom you talk regularly, or you can write or call HUCTW at firstname.lastname@example.org or 617-661-8289
April 16 Update
In the past week, senior Harvard administrators have written to our community with concerns about the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the University’s finances. Those messages, delivered by central University leaders and also separately by the deans of the Harvard schools, have focused on analysis of unexpected costs in closing the University during March, as well as likely declines in revenue as the broader economy slides quickly into a recession. The communications also outlined goals and values that administrators hope to emphasize in planning for cost cuts in the near future.
Understandably, many HUCTW members have reacted to those messages with concerns about the security of our jobs and our incomes. We want to assure you that, when discussions take place with University administrators, HUCTW leaders will place the highest priority on protecting jobs and avoiding losses in pay or benefits. Our Union’s officers and organizers have fielded questions and ideas from hundreds of members in the past few days, nearly all related to economic impacts on the University and our jobs. HUCTW leaders are deeply committed to listening closely to members’ ideas and concerns, working hard to analyze current conditions and develop creative solutions, and representing our members’ priorities and concerns strongly and effectively in discussions with Harvard administrators.
HUCTW leaders are meeting weekly with Harvard administrators to discuss problems and policies related to the pandemic and disrupted University operations. We will be scheduling additional meetings in the coming weeks to learn more and to press forward important priorities related to Harvard finances and budgets. Again, protecting jobs, pay, and benefits will be Union leaders’ primary focus in these discussions.For many years, the HUCTW Agreement has provided members with strong protections ensuring that layoffs can only happen as a last resort and that displaced staff have generous support with continuing pay and benefits for several months while they are searching for a new job. Because some of you have asked about these benefits, we are providing a link to a page that provides more details about the HUCTW Work Security Program for Layoffs: https://huctw.org/worksecurity.
In the last five weeks, thousands of HUCTW members have shown remarkable skill, strength, and commitment in carrying out important Harvard work under unfamiliar and stressful circumstances. The next few months will almost certainly require Union leaders and members to engage in challenging negotiations with Harvard officials about how the public health and economic problems will affect our jobs and our financial security. It will be important that we listen to each other, think creatively, work hard, and stay strong. More than ever, please do not hesitate to write or call HUCTW with questions, concerns, and ideas. You can contact an HUCTW leader you know, or reach us at email@example.com or 617-661-8289.
March 31 Update
We are writing to follow-up on the message HUCTW leaders sent on Friday morning (3/27) about our ongoing discussions with University Leaders around the COVID-19 health crisis. On Friday afternoon, Harvard announced that the University would guarantee full pay and benefits continuation for staff members who are unable to work from home due to University closure or public health restrictions through May 28. This means that all HUCTW members will continue to receive their regular pay and benefits based on their regularly scheduled hours through May 28, regardless of whether they can work from home or not. Harvard also extended the pay continuation to include the vast majority of contingent and contract workers. You can see the complete text of the University’s message below, as well as a Boston Globe article about the announcement and our original message to members from Friday.
We will continue to meet with University leaders every week to discuss pressing member issues related to the Coronavirus as they arise.
- Harvard email about pay continuation:
- Boston Globe article about pay continuation:
- HUCTW Coronavirus update from March 27:
March 27 Update
We wanted to update you on what HUCTW leaders are doing to support members at this time, as well as answer some of the questions we have received from you in recent days.
HUCTW leaders are meeting with Harvard administrators by videoconference every week to discuss broad member priorities and concerns around the Coronavirus. University representatives have been responsive and engaged in these conversations.
HUCTW leaders’ emphasis in these weekly meetings is on the following:
- HUCTW members should continue to receive their full pay and benefits, even if they are unable to work due to Harvard closures or public health decisions.
- HUCTW members’ jobs should be secure.
- HUCTW members should have enough sick time or other paid time to care for themselves and their family members, especially in light of Governor Baker’s recent announcement that Massachusetts schools will be closed until May 4.
Although there are still significant unknowns about how long and in what ways the Coronavirus pandemic will affect our community, the current health crisis is clearly an unprecedented situation. In light of this, we have encouraged Harvard to continue to take positive, unprecedented steps to protect the livelihoods of the University’s committed and hard-working staff members.
This is a time when HUCTW members and their local managers should feel empowered to work out creative and flexible arrangements for working from home, work hours, and job duties. If you have concerns about remote work arrangements in your department and would like to talk to an HUCTW organizer, please call or email your organizer directly, or the HUCTW office if you’re not sure who to contact.
Some related topics we’ve received questions about over the last few days:
- Time Reporting Codes: The University has indicated that there are three primary time reporting codes in PeopleSoft that you should be using during this time: (1) Regular, (2) Sick, and (3) Excused Absence – COVID19. However, there seems to be some variation among Harvard units in advice about how to apply the codes – with some providing more flexibility than others. Please reach out to your HUCTW Organizer if you have concerns about how they are being applied in your department.
- Parking Refunds/Credits: The Harvard Parking Services department is currently offering two refund or credit options for those whose commutes and daily driving routines have been disrupted by Coronavirus. One requires you to take timely action and the other does not. You can read about these two options for the Cambridge and Allston locations here: https://huctw.org/covidparking and for questions regarding Harvard parking in the Longwood Medical Area (LMA), members should call 617-432-1111, as payment relief is also being implemented for Harvard LMA parkers.
- MBTA and Other Commuter Passes Refunds/Credits: Local transit providers have announced that the cost of April 2020 transit passes, which were sent out the week of March 16, can be credited back when certain deadlines and/or mailing documentation by the user are met. Some of these options require you to take timely action, others do not. May 2020 passes that members do not expect to use must be cancelled by April 4 or charges will be automatically processed. Details on all refunds and credits can be found on the Commuter Choice website via this link: https://huctw.org/covidtransport.
Again, if you have any workplace questions or concerns that you need assistance with, please reach out to your HUCTW Organizer directly, or the HUCTW office if you’re not sure who to contact. All conversations are confidential.
HUCTW Organizer contact information: https://huctw.org/contact
General telephone: 617-661-8289, General email: firstname.lastname@example.org
March 16 Update
As we mentioned in the message sent to all members last Wednesday, HUCTW leaders are available to help you with any workplace questions or concerns that arise as a result of the Coronavirus pandemic and Harvard’s response to it.
During this time, the best way to reach HUCTW organizers is by email (email@example.com) or by phone (617-661-8289). When you reach out via one of these methods, we will connect you with a union organizer who works with your department. All conversations are confidential.
At this time, it is best not to stop by the HUCTW office unless you have scheduled an appointment with an HUCTW organizer. If you already know the HUCTW organizer who works with your department, you can find their contact information here. Members will also be receiving an email directly from their HUCTW organizer(s) this week.
March 11 Update
Some HUCTW members have reached out to the Union office with questions about how Harvard’s response to the Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak affects our membership. On Monday, March 9, Harvard President Larry Bacow announced that after the spring break, and beginning on March 23, Harvard will be holding all undergraduate and graduate classes remotely (online rather than in person) and that students should not return to campus if possible.
As of now, Harvard is still asking all healthy union and non-union staff to work as normal. HUCTW leaders want to ensure that members experience no loss in pay as a result of Harvard’s response to the Coronavirus and that all members have access to adequate sick time for themselves or affected loved ones. We also recognize that HUCTW members work in hundreds of diverse jobs across Harvard with unique health needs and family commitments, so very different questions may arise for individual members depending on their personal circumstances. HUCTW leaders are available to help you work through any workplace concerns or questions that may arise. You can email the HUCTW office at at firstname.lastname@example.org or call us at 617-661-8289 and we will put you in touch with a union organizer who works with your deparment. All conversations are confidential.
In the context of the Harvard-HUCTW contract, there are several things to be aware of:
- The Harvard-HUCTW contract supports and encourages flexible work arrangements, including working from home (telework/remote work). And Harvard is currently encouraging as many staff as possible to get prepared to work from home. If you need help negotiating a flexible schedule or work from home arrangement with your supervisor, an HUCTW organizer can help you. According to our contract, flexible schedule requests and telework requests may not be unreasonably denied. (HUCTW Agreement, pages 17-18). Hundreds of HUCTW members already work flexible schedules and work from home.
- The HUCTW contract also contains language that indicates that “…the University should not require any employee to perform a task that endangers her/his health or safety.” (HUCTW Agreement, pages 19). If you feel like your health or safety is endangered by coming to work, talk to your doctor about your concerns and your chance of risk. You can also talk to your supervisor or call or email the HUCTW office and we can help you figure out next steps.
- If you have other specific concerns about your particular workplace situation in light of the virus, please contact HUCTW and we can help you strategize about how to address those concerns. All conversations are confidential.
We have also pulled some key excerpts from Harvard’s Coronavirus Information that are particularly relevant to staff:
- Employees who are at increased risk for complications from COVID-19 due to underlying health conditions are urged to consult their physician about steps they can take to protect their health. These may include requesting a temporary change in job location, hours, assignment or duties, or implementation of additional protective measures to reduce their exposure to others or chances of being infected. If an employee at risk for complications from COVID-19 and their physician agree that increased social distancing in the workplace is prudent, the employee should contact their local HR office to formally requesta temporary change…
- If departments, offices or operations are closed by Harvard or public health authorities due to COVID-19, Harvard will provide affected non-remote employees with alternate work assignments or an emergency-related paid excused absence. If this occurs, Harvard would make commitments to pay continuation for a defined period of time (e.g., 30 days), with review and possible extension as conditions change…
- If large-scale remote work is implemented, those who will continue to work on campus – because their jobs require it and they are well, will likely be advised to maintain physical distance from others of at least 6 feet. If they have an underlying health condition or concern, they may request a change in job duties, location, hours, etc. by contacting local human resources…
- Employees may exceed the annual limits on the use of family and dependent care sick time (normally 2 to 12 days per year for staff) to care for dependents who are ill, or whose schools or care arrangements have been disrupted due to COVID-19…
- Employees with insufficient accrued sick leave may use up to 14 unearned sick days (they may accrue negative sick leave balances of up to 14 days) for illness, to meet self-isolation or quarantine requirements, or for the active care of others because of disruptions relating to COVID-19. Harvard will review this threshold periodically as conditions change…
- Normally, Harvard’s flexible work guidelines prohibit remote workers from simultaneously caring for dependent family members. Those guidelines are being relaxed in these extraordinary circumstances … If working remotely with relatively self-sufficient dependents or household members at home due to COVID-19 disruptions – no need to report the use of paid time off.
These are excerpts are taken from Harvard’s Coronavirus Workplace Policies document, but you should read the complete document to see all of the new Harvard policies. These are new policies that Harvard leaders have implemented in response to the outbreak, but HUCTW leaders are in close touch with the University and may wind up negotiating with Harvard leaders to adjust policies to better meet members’ needs.
Below are links to resources that members may find useful:
- Harvard Coronavirus Workplace Policies:
- Harvard Coronavirus Travel Guidance:
- Harvard Coronavirus FAQ:
- Center for Disease Control (CDC) Fact Sheets About Coronavirus:
- Massachusetts State Government Coronavirus FAQ: