LaborFamily News & Views

Supporting Families through a Community of Activists

Parental Participation HUCTW member and Harvard employee Carlos Solorzano with his wife Megan Murphy (also a Harvard employee) and their daughter Aurora. Carlos and Megan have been able to take advantage of the HUCTW-negotiated parental leave plan and the HUCTW childcare fellowship.

By Carrie Barbash

BEGINNINGS

The Harvard Union of Clerical and Technical Workers (HUCTW) organizing model has always been based around building meaningful relationships with every person in the membership. So even before the Union’s official inception in 1988, we had been talking to our future members every day, not only about their work lives, but also about their personal lives. Amid anecdotes from parents about late nights with a newborn or their kindergartener’s first day of school, we also learned that many members with children were having immense trouble meeting the financial demands of family life. Childcare costs were exorbitant and maternity leave, although available at Harvard, was unpaid.

BUILDING SUPPORT

Before HUCTW’s first agreement with the University, we built significant support for our childcare proposals simply through the community we had developed with and among our members. Once we signed our first contract in 1989, our one-to-one organizing efforts grew, but we were also able to develop a system of joint advisory teams throughout Harvard. Today, in many parts of the campus, union members and department managers sit together on committees and strategize about solutions to local problems, with a focus on work-life balance issues. Hundreds of rank-and-file members also serve as elected union representatives for their particular departments, providing another source of local advocacy and feedback for union initiatives.

BARGAINING VICTORIES

Childcare Fellowship
In our first contract with Harvard, we were able to negotiate a need-based fellowship program to help members with the costs of daycare and after-school programs. The University began the program with an annual grant of $50,000, and that contribution has now grown to over $1,000,000 a year.

Parental Leave
All new birth or adoptive mothers receive thirteen weeks of paid leave. New birth or adoptive fathers may take between one to four weeks of paid leave depending on their length of service at Harvard.

Use of Sick Days
Our members may use up to 12 paid sick days a year for the care of sick children or other dependents.

Work-Family Discussions
Harvard and HUCTW have formally agreed to support discussions of the local joint advisory teams regarding work-family issues as they relate to the local work place. The union and management co-chairs of each committee are invited to participate in joint training sessions to facilitate the discussions.

Problem-Solving
We define fairness as finding the best solution for each individual person and situation, rather than attempting to do the same thing for everyone.  To this end, Harvard and HUCTW have put in place a problem-solving process in which any aspect of work can be negotiated (with support and training) between an individual worker and their manager. 

LESSONS LEARNED

Developing a personal relationship with each member helps to create an open and informed community of people who have the confidence, support, and the drive to take responsibility for affecting change in their own work lives. Joint union-management committees can be a positive and empowering force for both the participating members and managers, but they also help both groups to break down some of the traditional workplace hierarchies and begin to see each other more as colleagues working together to solve shared problems.

The most recent Harvard University/HUCTW agreement is for three years and expires on June 30, 2010.

Carrie Barbash is union organizer for the Harvard Union of Clerical and Technical Workers (AFSCME Local 3650), which was started by Harvard University employees in 1988 and represents 4500+ overtime-eligible employees. Prior to becoming an organizer, Carrie was a Harvard staff member and served on the HUCTW executive board, the union’s central governing body.

For more information, please email HUCTW founder and union organizer, Kris Rondeau, at kris.rondeau(at)huctw.org

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