Workplace Problem Solving

The Harvard Union of Clerical & Technical Workers (HUCTW) and Harvard University are committed to solving workplace problems. We have found that it is highly effective to do this in a collaborative rather than adversarial way. Our negotiated joint problem solving process is designed around this idea, and HUCTW representatives can also be available to help or advise a union member at any stage of the process.

Informal Problem Solving

Problems can often be solved at the most local level, through informal discussions between individual members and supervisors/managers. Efforts to resolve individual problems in the workplace are most successful when union members and managers approach difficult situations openly, with creativity and a willingness to listen to one another.

If a union member and his/her supervisor are unable to resolve the problem on their own, it is recommended that the parties reach out to an HUCTW representative and a local HR officer to help the parties reach a fair and reasonable solution. An HUCTW representative can also assist “behind the scenes” to help these conversations go as smoothly as possible.

Regional Problem Solving

There are times when issues can’t be resolved at the local level. In such cases, an HUCTW member may bring his/her problem to the Regional Problem Solving Team. Regional Problem Solving is the first step of the formal problem resolution process for HUCTW and Harvard.

The Regional Problem Solving Team (RPST) is made up of union members and managers from across Harvard. The RPST is facilitated by union-management co-chairs and meets monthly to review and learn best practices from one another. If an HUCTW member brings a problem to the RPST, two individuals will be assigned to his/her case — one union RPST representative and one management RPST representative. Together this pair will interview the relevant parties and review all pertinent documents. The pair will work with the parties to develop a resolution that improves the situation and is acceptable to everyone involved. Closure requires some flexibility on both sides.

University Problem Solving

Ordinarily, the mediative process of joint problem solving at the RPST level brings about resolution. If a mutually agreeable outcome is not reached, a union member may request that the case go to the next step, the University Problem Solving Team (UPST).

The UPST is also composed of union leaders and University administrators or HR professionals from across Harvard. The UPST works in the same fashion as the Regional Team to help the parties involved come to a mutually agreeable solution. The UPST, which has union-management co-chairs, oversees and supports the activities and training of RPST members and also meets monthly to review and learn from cases and plan learning opportunities for all problem solvers.

RPST and UPST resolutions to which all parties have agreed are binding; all parties are expected to live up to their end of the bargain. Problem solving solutions are not legally precedent-setting, although we try to make sure our community learns from its experiences and re-uses good solutions.


If resolution is not reached at the UPST level, the next and last step of the negotiated problem solving process is Mediation to Conclusion. If a case reaches this stage of the process, the HUCTW Executive Board will be asked to consider whether the case should move onto mediation. If the case moves to mediation, HUCTW and Harvard will refer the case to an outside neutral mediator jointly selected and paid for by the Union and the University. The mediator will make recommendations for the resolution of the problem and, if a consensus is still not reached, will make a final binding decision about outcome.

Problem Solving Q&A

How is problem solving at Harvard different from other places?

This problem solving process replaces a grievance procedure that is traditionally used in many unionized settings. The grievance model can often center around antagonism, inflexibility, and litigious paperwork to determine if contract violations have occurred. Our process is about people working out differences — creating real progress and mutually-crafted, sustainable solutions.

Who initiates problem solving? How does it start?

Ordinarily a union member and their union representative ask for help from the Regional Problem Solving Team. A manager or human resources officer can request help, too. When a case comes to the RPST, all relevant parties (union member, supervisor, union representative, HR officer) are notified. It is recommended that RPST involvement be initiated when workplace conflict continues over a two to three month period and any time there is a disagreement about a first warning letter in a progressive disciplinary process.

If the problem is about work performance, what happens to the disciplinary process during problem solving?

It depends on the particular case. Sometimes it makes sense for the disciplinary process to be put on pause, by mutual agreement, during joint problem solving. This allows for a cooling off period and gives problem solving a chance to determine if a progressive disciplinary process is appropriate and/or on track. Other times the disciplinary process may continue.

Would I get in trouble with my supervisor for requesting problem solving?

No. Problem solving is embraced by the community as a helpful tool, one that can build and strengthen collaborative relations between management and union members. No one need fear reprisals for requesting problem solving: the process is negotiated and sanctioned by the University.

Who are the problem solvers?

They are members of the Harvard community appointed, trained, and supported by the University and the Union. They will necessarily maintain confidentiality.

More Information

To contact an HUCTW representative for your department, please call or email the HUCTW office and ask to speak to your departmental representative (Tel: 617-661-8289, Email:

To contact an HR representative for your department, please call your local HR office and ask to speak to your departmental representative.

To learn more about the problem solving process, please review the following sections in the HUCTW Agreement and Manual:

Please reach out to the HUCTW office if you have any questions (Tel: 617-661-8289, Email: