Campus & Community

Rudenstine praises ‘far-reaching’ recommendations

6 min read

I received today (May 3) a copy of the final report of the Ad Hoc Committee on Employment Policies — a committee composed of faculty and senior administrators from across the University, which I appointed last spring to study issues relating to the contingent workforce on campus. I intend to study the report thoroughly and to share it broadly with students, faculty, staff, the Deans of our Schools and Faculties, and the interested public so that we all have the benefit of its analysis and can begin to consider how to implement its recommendations. As we embark on this process of review, I would like to share some of my initial reactions to the work of the Committee.

First, I want to thank all members of the Committee, and particularly its Chair, Quinn Mills, for the seriousness and rigor with which they have approached their work. The Committee has met repeatedly over the past year and availed itself of every possible source of information to develop a clear picture of the employment situation on this campus, including an analysis of different groups of employees, and their levels of wages — compensation, benefits, and other considerations. When existing University systems were not able to supply the data, the Committee used surveys — of outside employers and of our own workforce — to develop a nuanced view of the work being done and, where necessary, of the circumstances of individual workers. The result is a report that is comprehensive and well-reasoned in its analysis and exceptionally strong and forward-looking in its recommendations. We all owe the Committee a huge debt of gratitude for accepting a difficult and time-consuming task and executing it with objectivity, imagination, good sense and good faith.

Second, I want to thank the students, faculty, and others who have focused the attention of the entire University community on important questions of economic justice and on the dignity and well-being of all workers on this campus. The “Living Wage” Campaign provided an important impetus for the formation of the Ad Hoc Committee. I personally believe that, had the Campaign leaders on campus not pressed their case so thoughtfully, we would not have looked so carefully and broadly at these questions, and probably would not have considered such wide ranging reforms as those proposed by the Committee. The Committee, by its own account, took with utmost seriousness both the issues raised by the Campaign and the specific solution it proposed. In carrying out its work, the Committee, appropriately, went considerably beyond my initial charge — which was focused primarily on those who work part-time or are the employees of contractors — to assess fully the situation of the lowest wage workers on campus, in all units and job categories, whether unionized or not. I also made clear to the Committee that it was free to make whatever recommendations it believed to be appropriate — whether related to wages, benefits, or other matters.

Although the Committee has declined to recommend that the University adopt a specific dollar wage rate as a floor for all workers, the Committee specifically endorsed the premise of the Living Wage Campaign — that workers on the Harvard campus should be paid fair and competitive compensation for the jobs they perform, and should be treated with dignity as part of the larger University community. The Committee concluded that the University meets and exceeds this goal. Harvard provides very generous compensation and benefit packages and a favorable work environment. Viewed through the lens of compensation alone, Harvard’s record is equally strong. Under 3 percent of Harvard’s regular workforce of 12,722, all of them unionized, make below $10 an hour in wages. 194 of that group, all of them part time, make below $10 an hour when total compensation is factored in.

Viewed through the lens of compensation, the Committee found that Harvard’s record as an employer is strong. It found nevertheless that the University could make significant improvements in the benefits and opportunities available to entry-level workers, and in its process for contracting with outside companies for service work on campus. The Committee’s recommendations address in a comprehensive way both the present and future prospects of entry level workers at the University as measured, not only by wages, but also by benefits, community participation, skill development, and access to opportunities for good jobs with full benefits both at Harvard and elsewhere.

Specifically, the Committee recommends that Harvard:

• Greatly expand its education and training opportunities for entry-level workers, providing courses free (with paid time off) to entry-level workers across the university, whether they are our own employees or the employees of service contractors on campus;

• Extend health benefits to all regular Harvard employees, whether full or part-time, except for those (17 out of 12,458) who work less than two days a week;

• Adopt important university-wide guidelines governing contracting with large service providers;

• Extend to long-term part-time staff, whether casual employees or service workers, a series of benefits and perquisites designed to more fully integrate them into the University Community.

These recommendations are very far-reaching, and constitute a major new investment in Harvard’s employment programs. The proposed extension of health benefits to part-time employees who work less than 20 hours per week represents an annual investment of $2000 per employee. The greatly expanded training program represents an investment of $2800 per year in each eligible employee.

It is my strong inclination to recommend that the University adopt the suggested expansion of benefits for each category of workers, and the guidelines for contracting with outside companies for services. In saying this I do not in any way wish to short-circuit the review process. I will welcome comments, and I expect that the process of working through the recommendations with managers, union representatives, outside companies, and others who will ultimately be responsible for their successful implementation will take time and good will on all our parts.

I understand that these recommendations may well not meet with approval in all quarters of the University, nor with friends outside Harvard. There has already been some indication that — at least in the eyes of some — the recommendations go too far, whether in the provision of health benefits, the regulation of the contracting process, or the dramatic expansion of Harvard’s commitment to training. Some may be concerned with the expense of the recommended changes or with potential difficulties in implementation. Other people may feel that the recommendations do not go far enough, for any number of reasons. Still others may find the report as a whole to be flawed for the sole reason that it does not contain a recommendation for a specific “dollar” wage floor.

I fully believe, however, that anyone who studies the report carefully will conclude that the Committee has made a comprehensive and conscientious assessment of Harvard’s full range of employment policies and practices, and that the Committee’s recommendations are wide-ranging and very thoughtfully designed to address a number of important issues. Together, these recommendations represent a significant advance for individual workers at Harvard and for the University as a whole.

Again, I thank the Committee and commend to all of you its report.