News and Events

Why Am I In a “Clerical and Technical” Union?

Sometimes HUCTW members ask, ‘Why am I in the Harvard Union of Clerical and Technical Workers? I’m not a clerical or technical worker.’ But our Union’s name speaks to our origins: most of the members who founded HUCTW were lab assistants, library assistants, and secretaries. Over time HUCTW has expanded to include hundreds of unique jobs! Our members are coordinators who travel the world running Harvard’s executive education programs, they are gardeners and arborists who care for rare plants in Harvard’s woodlands and gardens, and they are grant managers who facilitate almost all of Harvard’s scientific research, just to name a few! These jobs don’t necessarily fit within the constraints of “clerical and technical”, but many unions grow over time. There are musicians in the United Automobile Workers (UAW), there are adjunct faculty members in the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), and there are airline pilots and zookeepers in the Teamsters. The name “Harvard Union of Clerical and Technical Workers” doesn’t come close to capturing the whole colorful mosaic of HUCTW members and their jobs, but we’re still proud of it!

You can read more about the history of HUCTW and the workers who started it all in this 1993 article by John Hoerr, Solidaridas at Harvardin The American Prospect:

“In 1988, against all odds and the great resources of the nation’s wealthiest university, the union won a National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) election after two previous defeats. In an earlier incarnation as labor law professor, Harvard’s then president, Derek Bok, had championed the right of workers to have unions. But on his own campus, Bok continued a legal fight against HUCTW for months before the NLRB turned down his appeal. Bok then recognized HUCTW, ending a 15-year battle for the hearts of workers historically titled “university servants” who really wanted to be loyal to both union and university–and subject to no master…

In the early 1970s, a women’s rebellion began in the Harvard “medical area.” Located in Boston’s Mission Hill section, several miles from the main campus in Cambridge, the medical area consists of the Schools of Medicine, Dentistry, and Public Health. Most clerical and technical positions were filled by women, many of whom wanted only part-time or short-term jobs while studying for graduate degrees and starting families. Harvard exploited this phenomenon in order to obtain a high-quality work force on the cheap. Leslie Sullivan, who was hired as a research assistant in the School of Public Health in 1971, recalls the implicit pitch: “Come work at Harvard. Meet a medical student. Get married!”  These “female jobs” commanded low salaries and little status, regardless of skill required. Women who chose to continue working seldom rose above low-level supervisory positions…”

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