The following letter was emailed to all HUCTW members on September 24, 2018.
Dear HUCTW Members,
HUCTW leaders are writing today to give you an important update on our 2018 contract negotiations with Harvard. Our current contract is set to expire on September 30, 2018 and, unfortunately, we believe it is possible that the negotiations will not be resolved by that date. Union leaders held off on communicating with members until now because there were indications that we were making slow but steady progress towards a resolution, but it now appears that the Union and the University are most likely still too far apart on the most critical issues to reach agreement by September 30. The most significant issues are in the areas of salary increases, health care, and contingent work.
For the last five months, HUCTW and Harvard negotiators have met virtually every week, often multiple times a week in an effort to reach agreement on a new Harvard-HUCTW contract. Negotiations have been respectful and constructive, but also at times intense and frustrating.
We’ve used the results of HUCTW Negotiations Survey (which more than half of our 5,100 members took part in) to shape and strengthen our proposals, with data and personal stories provided by members. In the past month, the negotiations have reached a new phase of energetic examination and exchange of specific proposed solutions that will define a new salary increase program and, we hope, achieve substantive progress in other economic and noneconomic areas. Our discussions have also been informed by input from respected neutral mediators, and by objective data.
HUCTW believes that salary increases should allow members to keep up with price inflation, and also make progress above inflation. In the last contract, inflation measured around 2% in each year of the contract, and our salary increases in each of those years was approximately 3.4% for the average member.
Now in 2018, the rate of inflation is significantly higher than in past years–for July 2018 the federal government’s Bureau of Labor Statistics reported an overall Boston-area inflation rate of 3.4% and a core inflation rate of 2.7% (core inflation measures the cost of all goods and services minus more volatile items like food and energy). HUCTW proposals in our current negotiations have applied the same concepts outlined above, but adjusted for these new higher inflation rates. At this point, as we move into late September, there is a significant gap between Union and Management proposals on pay. HUCTW leaders are deeply committed to continuing our negotiating efforts until we have achieved an outcome that allows members to make financial progress in our lives, not just to tread water.
In the 2015 contract, Harvard and HUCTW agreed to adjust the health premium contribution income tiers that determine how much each member pays towards health care premiums from her/his paycheck. There are four income tiers, and different premium sharing for each–lower paid staff pay less for their healthcare, and higher paid staff pay more. Our proposals suggest that these income tiers need to move regularly to keep pace with rising health care costs, inflation, and wages–as we did in the 2015 contract. Based on our latest proposals, there is still a substantial distance between HUCTW’s and Harvard’s ideas on when these premium tiers should be adjusted and how our costs should be measured against the University’s. HUCTW remains firmly committed to a plan that will keep health care affordable for all members, and ensure costs continue to be shared fairly between Harvard and employees.
As Harvard has grown in recent years, so has its use of unbenefited workers, such as temps or less-than-half-time workers (LHTs). Harvard employment data clearly shows rapid growth in Harvard departments’ reliance on LHTs and temps. Use of contingent workers is also a growing trend in the wider U.S. economy, where employers have become increasingly dependent on precariously-employed, unbenefited workers such as temps, contractors, and outsourced staffing. Through our proposals, HUCTW is hoping to partner with the University to develop a more fair employment practice for the hundreds of community members who work alongside HUCTW members every day, do HUCTW-level work, but do not receive the benefits and protections of Harvard employment and HUCTW membership. The Union seeks to maintain the University’s current options for flexible temporary employment to cover for staff leaves-of-absence and unexpected departmental activity, while establishing common-sense limits for the duration of unbenefited employment. Up to this point in negotiations, Union and Harvard negotiators have not been able to reach agreement on a framework that would strike a fair balance.
Over the last month Harvard and HUCTW have intensified our discussions and schedule and we will continue at this intensified pace. We have also asked for more direct involvement from our trusted neutral mediators, who have helped us resolve the last two Harvard-HUCTW contracts successfully. HUCTW negotiators are committed to working as quickly as possible to reach a fair contract.
It’s clear there are a number of complex issues on the table and we will probably need to make some difficult decisions about priorities in the coming weeks. Union leaders want to hear your thoughts. And as soon as there are developments that negotiators are able to share, we will reach out to members with written communications and meetings in every unit.
Next week, we will be in touch about what HUCTW members can do to get more involved and help move negotiations forward.
One quick and easy thing that all members can do to support negotiations is print out an HUCTW poster and put it up in your workspace. This lets everyone in our community know that HUCTW members in all parts of the campus are deeply invested in the outcome of these important talks, and that Harvard works because we do.
HUCTW Posters: https://huctw.org/posters