Campus & Community

University expands wages, benefits

4 min read

Seven months after a Harvard committee recommended changes to improve wages and working conditions for the University’s lowest-paid workers, wages have been raised and a parity policy enacted to ensure that contracted employees receive compensation equivalent to their Harvard counterparts.

These measures implement the core recommendations of the Harvard Committee on Employment and Contracting Policies (HCECP), chaired by Professor Lawrence Katz. The committee, created by former President Neil L. Rudenstine, was charged with studying and making recommendations concerning the situation of Harvard’s lowest-paid service workers and suggesting guidelines for contracting out service work. The committee reported its findings and recommendations to Harvard President Lawrence H. Summers in December 2001 — who indicated his intention to adopt the core recommendations and ensure their prompt and effective implementation.

“Over the past year, the University has taken important steps to improve wages and working conditions for service workers on this campus, and we are engaged in ongoing efforts to ensure a positive climate for all employees,” said President Summers. “I am grateful to University administrators, members of the Committee on Employment and Contracting Policies, and union representatives for the constructive spirit in which they have worked to complete new wage agreements and develop and implement key policies. As I have said before, everyone who works on this campus contributes in vital ways to the University’s mission, and I am pleased at our progress in making sure that our employment policies and practices reflect that fact.”

The committee recommended that Harvard raise wages for its service workers, including custodians, retail dining services workers, museum and security guards, and parking attendants, to levels between $10.83 and $11.30 an hour. It also recommended several other reforms, including parity wages for contracted employees in the service areas that would require contractors to pay their workers in wages and benefits as much as similar Harvard-employed workers make. The parity wage reform is aimed at preventing market conditions from putting downward pressure on wages.

Summers accepted the committee’s recommendations in January, calling the report a “thoughtful and constructive” document and pledging to begin implementation immediately. The University has reached agreements with each of the three unions representing workers studied by the committee. The agreements signficantly increase the hourly pay for affected workers. For details, see box on page 8.

“I’m pleased at the substantial progress the University has made in implementing the HCECP’s core recommendations,” said economics Professor Lawrence Katz, who chaired the committee. “The University’s new collective bargaining agreements and its new parity wage system for contractors will significantly increase compensation levels and make Harvard a better place to work for service workers. And I am hopeful the continued efforts in each of the Schools at addressing the quality of work-life issues raised in the HCECP report will serve to make Harvard a better workplace for all on-campus workers.”

Harvard has also adopted a wage and benefits parity policy, requiring that contractors providing custodial, dining, and security services to Harvard offer total compensation to their workers equivalent to that paid to Harvard employees doing similar work. The policy allows the University to continue to use subcontracted workers as a way of ensuring quality, efficiency, and innovation while preventing downward pressure on wages.

Harvard’s Director of Labor and Employee Relations David A. Jones said the experience of implementing the recommendations — which he said are 85 percent to 90 percent complete — has been a bit unusual.

“We’ve never raised wages by 25, 26, 27 percent in the first year [of a contract]. It’s just unheard of,” Jones said.

The parity policy was developed based on extensive consultation with contractors’ representatives and with Harvard’s different Schools, Jones said. According to Jones, Harvard is among the first to enact such a policy, so there was little experience elsewhere to draw on.

“The wage and benefit parity policy was the most challenging piece of the implementation puzzle. No one had ever done anything like it before,” Jones said. “I think we’ve done an effective job of making that into a living concept.”

Progress has been made in several other areas as well. To enhance shared values and norms and improve the climate for all workers on campus, the University has developed a statement of values to be shared with all employees this summer, and discussed and adopted by individual Schools and units over the next year.

On the training and development front, the Bridge to Learning and Literacy Program — which provides English language and high school equivalency training with paid release time — has expanded to more than 400 participants in the spring term from a starting point of just 47 three years ago. The program includes workers at Harvard’s Longwood Campus and is available to employees of contractors.