Campus & Community

Katz: The University ‘has made great progress’

5 min read

Five years ago, following a student-led worker-advocacy campaign, Harvard President Neil L. Rudenstine convened a committee of 11 faculty, four students, and five Harvard staff members (three unionized employees and two senior administrators), to address the issue of wages and working conditions for service workers at the University.

The Harvard Committee on Employment and Contracting Policies (HCECP), which became known as the Katz Committee for its head, economics professor Lawrence Katz, was mandated to “think both creatively and realistically about how a university that aspires to the highest standards in education and research can define principles and policies that help it to advance the well-being of people whose often-unheralded efforts do so much to help the institution function from day to day.”

After months of research and interviews, the HCECP presented their findings and recommendations to the new president, Lawrence H. Summers, in December 2001. Summers accepted the committee’s recommendations and took steps to lay the groundwork for change.

Today, Katz says, “the University has made great progress towards the HCECP recommendations … by fostering a constructive, respectful relationship between Harvard and the labor unions representing thousands of employees.”

The committee made two key recommendations. The first was to re-examine the wage provisions of service-union contracts from the past decade to address a reduction in wages that had taken place because of various market factors, including a growing trend toward outsourcing.

The second recommendation was to establish a pioneering Wage and Benefits Parity Policy (WBPP), which required that outside contractors providing custodial, dining, and security services to the University offer total compensation to their workers equivalent to what Harvard pays its own unionized workers performing the same or similar work. The committee said that proper collective bargaining was the appropriate way to have wages determined both for Harvard employees and vendor employees.

The WBPP made Harvard the first institution of higher education in the United States to address equity issues for vendor employees, establishing a national model that has since been adopted by other universities and labor unions.

Wages and benefits: The year following the committee’s recommendations, the University signed contracts with the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), the union representing custodial employees and museum attendants, parking service monitors and guards, to substantially increase hourly wages.

Harvard also expanded its subsidized health insurance program to all regular service employees who work at least 16 hours a week, and extended full-benefit eligibility to employees who work 20 hours or more each week.

“Addressing wages and benefits was the most significant step the University made, and the WBPP system still allowed the individual schools to find the best suppliers at the best price without undercutting the worker’s compensation,” said Katz.

“Today, the Office of Labor Relations continues to conduct annual health and pension plan comparability reviews and work with the University’s vendors to establish comparable benefit plans to facilitate further compliance with the WBPP,” said William J. Murphy, director of the University’s Office of Labor Relations.

Work life: The Katz Committee addressed additional, nonwage, areas related to working at the University, making a number of recommendations. To meet the committee’s nonwage recommendations, Harvard created an infrastructure to ensure accountability and enforcement of new policies and practices. This included the creation of the University Ombuds Office to assist staff in resolving workplace issues, identifying options and strategies, and providing appropriate referrals. The Katz Committee also urged Harvard to “gather reliable data on the quality of work life at Harvard,” which the University has since done in two work climate surveys of staff – including services employees .

Another initiative arising from the recommendations is the Center for Workplace Development’s leadership development program.

“Over the last five years the leadership development program has provided training to more than 150 new managers and supervisors on values, communication, performance management, staff development, mediation/problem solving, and valuing diversity,” said Murphy.

Aside from additional training for managers and supervisors, Harvard has annually expanded the Bridge to Learning and Literacy Program, which provides free classes, including literacy and English, preparation for high school equivalency and citizenship tests, and computer skills training.

The Bridge Program has grown from a pilot class of 38 just six years ago to enrollment of more than 500 Harvard service and contract employees each semester.

Transparency: The Katz Committee recognized that to be successful, the new labor relations process must be a transparent one and that there must be a vehicle for the University to accurately communicate its policies.

“The major aspects of this ambitious policy have now been established and the Office of Labor Relations continues to work closely with on-campus vendors as well as University contract managers to achieve continued progress, compliance, and transparency,” said Murphy. “We are proud of the significant progress the University has made in the areas of wages and benefits, full-time employment, workplace values, training, and communication in the ongoing effort to develop and strengthen the workplace for service workers.”

Each year, the Office of Human Resources publishes an annual report on the status of service employees, made available on the newly launched Web site. The site also contains detailed information about recently concluded negotiations with unions representing custodial, dining services, security, and parking employees, as well as results from the annual WBPP audits.

“The five-year anniversary of the Katz Committee marks the start of an ongoing period of positive and constructive progress in the complex labor-management relationship at Harvard,” said Marilyn Hausammann, the University’s vice president of Human Resources. “Since Katz, the University has worked very hard to demonstrate its commitment to providing good jobs, high-quality benefits, and excellent educational opportunities that improve the long-term economic prospects of its employees.”