We want to let you know about an ongoing dispute between HUCTW leaders and Harvard administrators regarding the University’s refusal to abide by our longstanding contractual agreement around the review and resolution of sexual harassment complaints in the workplace.
In our first contract with the University, signed in 1989, Harvard and HUCTW agreed to a formal problem-resolution process to address Union members’ complaints of sexual harassment at Harvard. During the initial steps of this process, trained HUCTW and Harvard management partners work together to investigate and resolve sexual harassment complaints from HUCTW members. If a member’s complaints are not resolved in a way that all parties can agree to during these initial stages, the case can be referred to a neutral mediator — unconnected with the University or the Union — who can mediate and, if needed, make a binding decision on a resolution between the parties.
This negotiated recourse was and continues to be crucial for HUCTW members. It mandates that Union and University representatives play an equal role in gathering information and proposing resolutions, creating a process that is balanced, safe, and transparent for members who have experienced assault or harassment, including a final step with a mediator from outside the Harvard community.
In a number of recent cases, when HUCTW members brought forward complaints of sexual harassment to HUCTW— requesting our contractual process — University administrators have refused to engage in the required meetings. Administrators claimed that our negotiated process cannot be made available to members due to the University’s obligations under the Title IX statute.
As you likely know from the University’s required online trainings, Title IX is a federal law designed to protect students, staff, and faculty in educational institutions from sexual discrimination, harassment, and assault. Under Title IX policy, Harvard is legally required to provide all Harvard affiliates with a sexual harassment resolution process that meets certain criteria and is overseen by Harvard administrators. Harvard has done this.
Harvard’s Obligations to HUCTW
Just as Harvard must meet legal obligations under Title IX, Harvard must also meet its equally important legal obligations under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) to comply with contractual commitments it has made to HUCTW. Our Agreement requires that the University and the Union provide members with access to the HUCTW’s sexual harassment resolution process if they request it. That obligation is not nullified or overridden simply because an alternative procedure also exists, nor does any language in the Title IX policy suggest that it should be. Harvard’s own Title IX procedure acknowledges the existence of the separate HUCTW process and states that the HUCTW process is available to our members, but in practice, University administrators have been unwilling to meet their obligations.
To be clear, we believe HUCTW members are absolutely entitled to have access to and use the Title IX process to address complaints of harassment or abuse, just like any other group on campus. We are not suggesting that the contractual HUCTW process replace the Title IX process, nor are we attempting to steer people away from the Title IX process. We are simply saying that members should also have access to the contractually agreed-upon Harvard-HUCTW process for resolving sexual harassment complaints if they choose.
If University administrators have identified ways that Title IX language conflicts with HUCTW contract language, HUCTW leaders are willing to sit down and discuss these concerns. However, simply refusing to follow our negotiated contract language is not an option.
A Fair & Balanced Process
As mentioned above, Union members must have access to our negotiated process not only because it is their legal right, but because it is a fairer process. Most sexual harassment complaints from HUCTW members involve a significant power disparity, where a supervisor or a faculty member is accused of harassing a more junior staff member. Often the accused not only has significant authority over the member, but they also hold significant influence and power at the University, creating a situation where Harvard has a vested interest in protecting the accused.
As we’ve learned from our members’ experiences and recent coverage in the media, Harvard’s Title IX process alone — where the University unilaterally controls every step of the process as well as all of its outcomes — has repeatedly proven insufficient to address some staff members’ concerns, particularly when up against powerful Harvard faculty or managers. To balance the power differential and create a safe, accountable, and just process for members who have experienced sexual harassment and assault, our staff must also have access to a process where they too have agency, where Harvard and HUCTW have equal roles in investigating claims and proposing resolutions, and where a neutral mediator can make a binding decision if necessary.
We are bringing this important issue to your attention as we continue to face resistance from the University. We want our members to be aware, informed, and protected as we work together to ensure the University is meeting its important commitments and legal obligations to HUCTW members. We will continue to keep you informed about this situation and let you know if we need additional help from HUCTW members to hold the University to its obligations.
If you have experienced sexual discrimination, harassment, or assault in the course of your Harvard job, please reach out to HUCTW at firstname.lastname@example.org or 617-661-8289. Everything you discuss with us is confidential.