On a cold evening in January 1993, wearing union negotiators returned to their second-floor office across from Harvard Yard and uncorked three bottles of champagne. they had just negotiated a new contract covering some 3,500 non-teaching Harvard Clerical and Technical Workers (HUCTW) began an impromptu briefing on the settlement: pay raises averaging 15.5 percent over three years and a novel provision that virtually guarantees job security.
Though pleased with the contrac terms, Rondeau was still angry at Harvard management. the talks had dragged on six months beyond the expiration of the previous contract, delaying the first year's salary increase. "The most important thing you have to remember," she told some 20 HUCTW staff members and activists, "is where it [the settlement] comes from"--not from "the stuff that goes on in those . . . rooms," she said, gesturing with some disdain toward the building where the talks had taken place. "It comes from organizing. It comes from being in the streets. It comes from talking to people." She held up a bottle of champagne. "Let's celebrate!"
Rondeau, 40 years old, a demure woman with a habitually flaring smile, hardly suggests the typical unionist--but then this is no typical union. Yet HUCTW is emblematic of what the labor movement will become if it is to survive and grow. As a movement of secretaries, lab technicians, library assistants, and kindred employees removed from the glamour of Harvard faculty celebrity, the union epitomizes the new service sector of the economy. And like so much of the unorganized service work force, the union's rank and file is heavily female (83 percent are women).
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.
HUCTW and Harvard started off with a first contract in 1989 and the beginnings of a highly innovative and cooperative relationship. But Neil Rudenstine, who succeeded Bok, sent an inexperienced team to the bargaining table in 1992. Harvard's top-level administrators and deans remained divided over whether to deal with the HUCTW as an old-style adversary or as a new-style partner in improving the workplace.
When the bargaining process broke down, HUCTW invented tactics unimaginable in a 1930s factory setting. A strike was never seriously contemplated. But members of HUCTW did take to the streets in peaceful marches, conducted Hollywood-like bus "tours" of the deans' homes, and held several rallies culminating in a November 1992 gathering addressed by Jesse Jackson in Harvard Yard. Whatever HUCTW did, it did with humor. When Rudenstine and his wife returned from a trip to Europe last August, about three dozen union members met them at Logan Airport, playing "Hail to the Chief" on kazoos.
Harvard University may seem the least likely place in the world for the resurgence of old-fashioned union solidarity. But there it is, as strong in its own way as the spirit that energized John L. Lewis's miners, the "shock troops of American labor," in the 1940s. HUCTW was forged in a 15-year effort by a predominantly female work force against arbitrary and often sexist practices at Harvard--a sexism often reflected as well in the national unions that had tried in vain to organize Harvard. Yet two eminent male Harvardians played a crucial supportive role: John T. Dunlop, probably the country's foremost theorist and practitioner of industrial relations, and James T. Healy, a Harvard teacher for 40 years and a leading mediation and arbitration expert.
This is the story, first, about how HUCTW came to be; and second, about its struggle to enlist Harvard management as a partner in a new relationship.
A NEW UNIONISM
"We really want our members to be optimistic about change," Kristine Rondeau says, "and to see themselves as being players in the world, not people that have things just happen to them but people who participate in making things happen." She recites the first sentence of her favorite novel, David Copperfield: "'Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anybody else, these pages must show.'"
Rondeau's concept of unionism is embodied in HUCTW's unique contract with Harvard. The agreement is mainly a statement of values and principles, not an elaboration of rules and procedures.
In a formal sense, there are no rules at all--and thus no contractual satrapies to be policed by union stewards and their management equivalents with the inevitable legalistic brawls. Workplace relations are based on the development of trust and pragmatic problem solving between disputants and, especially, on employee involvement. HUCTW may be the only union that based a major organizing campaign on the idea of direct worker participation.
This philosophy had a strong appeal for women workers like Donene Williams, now the president of HUCTW. (She is the top elected official, but Rondeau still leads the staff as she works on other organizing drives.) In 1987, as a staff assistant in the Harvard Law School, Williams at first resisted union organizers. "I liked my job," she says, "and I kept expecting to hear something bad from the union, like, 'Oh, by the way, you'll have to go on strike every year.'"
But the union focused on gaining a voice for workers. This "voice," however, is more than the traditional representative voice--a union mouthpiece speaking for workers at the bargaining table. Union members participate in joint decision-making forums with management, primarily through "joint councils," small groups of managers and workers who meet regularly to discuss and act on policies and work force arrangements. HUCTW-style unionism is also based on self-representation. Believing that workers should stand up for themselves, HUCTW encourages them, with union backing, to deal directly with supervisors. The Harvard contract has no formal grievance procedure. "Some people in unions want a big hairy guy to come in and hit the supervisor over the head with a bat," says Cory Paulsen, the local vice president in 1992. "What we do is scarier for the people who have a preconception about what a union is. They're forced to do it themselves."
A WOMEN'S REBELLION
By the time baby boomers began entering the labor force in the 1960s, American unions had become stereotyped as outsiders who would make trouble for employees, especially women workers who predominated in the expanding service sector. The industrial unions either ignored the services and their female employees or often made a clumsy hash of trying to organize them. Indeed, had it not been for the burgeoning women's movement, Harvard might never have become unionized.
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. Sullivan and other women began to demand better treatment. At their prodding, the dean of the medical school in 1973 established a Committee on the Status of Women with representatives from the several schools. This restrained overt discrimination, but senior managers on the committee refused to discuss pay or working conditions.
Harvard has long operated on the principle of "each tub on its own bottom," with its several professional schools maintaining substantial autonomy. Although a central personnel office existed, there was no consistency in salary, working conditions, managerial style, or complaint systems. "The deans and administrators had an exalted image of themselves," says Leslie Sullivan, "and we were invisible to them."
Led by Sullivan, women employees formed a committee and affiliated with a small union that represented office and retail-store workers, mainly in New York City. Officially titled the Distributive Workers of America, the union was better known as District 65 from its former designation as part of a larger AFL-CIO union. Vaguely leftist in ideology, it had broken away and become an independent. Sullivan resigned from Harvard in 1974 and went on the District 65 staff. By early 1975 she had enough support in the medical area to petition the NLRB for a certification election.
Unions were not new to Harvard. For many years nine unions had represented police, maintenance, and food service workers (totaling about 1,800 in 1993). But the medical area deans blanched at the thought of unionized secretaries, library assistants, and technicians. The deans lobbied hard against the union, while university lawyers got the election postponed. Two years later, medical area workers voted the union down, by 90 votes out of 782 cast.
THE MAKING OF AN ORGANIZER
Kris Rondeau, at 23, began working at the Harvard Medical School in 1976. A recent graduate of a small college in Vermont, she liked science, had vague thoughts of becoming a doctor, and was excited about being a "biomedical technician" at such a prestigious scientific institution. She worked with scientists who were studying brain activity in animals. "I thought I had died and gone to heaven," she remembers. That was precisely how the management of the medical school wanted their employees to feel: privileged to work there.
On her first day at work and for weeks after that, a co-worker had urged Rondeau to join the union organizing effort. She put him off because the very mention of "union" made her feel uncomfortable. Roundeau later recalled, "I was afraid of unions. I thought they were filled with conflict, and the idea of being in one filled me with conflict."
Rondeau initially resisted unionism despite her background. She was born into a working-class family in Whitinsville, Massachusetts, an old textile "mill village" about 40 miles southwest of Boston. The Whitin Machine Works, started in 1847 to serve nearby cotton mills, became the world's largest maker of textile machinery. It was known locally as "The Shop." Rondeau's parents both worked there, her mother as a secretary and her father as a skilled machinist and union steward.
In a small town like Whitinsville (population about 10,000) every strand of life quivered to the rhythms of work and social conflict (or cooperation) that came out of The Shop: the noon lunch whistle and the four o'clock quitting whistle, the two afternoon traffic jams--one at four when the blue-collar workers finished up, and one at five o'clock when the office employees went home. Rondeau saw the unease of people in church when a powerful factory manager sat nearby. She grew up with families that lived hand-to-mouth in modest, company-built row houses, always worrying about the next layoff or the next strike when the contract came up.
Rondeau thought that most Americans lived like the people of Whitinsville. At Harvard, for the first time, she saw real wealth. The Medical area, with its immense white marble buildings, and Harvard Square, with its commercial and intellectual glitter, seemed "like places of tremendous privilege." Faculty members and administrators had money and power, but Harvard workers did not. The idea of "union" began to mean more than union "bosses" creating conflict. When she received a meager pay raise as the cost of living soared in 1978, she realized "I'm trapped. I can't do better than this." She began to see unionism as a way to overcome "that kind of heavy feeling that workers have of being a small, insignificant, struggling person."
Harvard's anti-union campaign in 1977 only strengthened Rondeau's attachment to unionism. In 1979 Sullivan hired Rondeau as her assistant. For the next few years the two women worked as a team in the Boston area, organizing and negotiating contracts for employees in small offices and retail stores. They also kept the flame alive at Harvard and petitioned for another election in late 1980. Harvard mounted even fiercer opposition than the first time around.
Anti-union campaigns succeed, Rondeau concluded, because they scare people. Harvard's message to employees, as Rondeau interpreted it, was a simple one: "`We're Harvard, we're big, and we know what you're doing, and we'll get you, and if you think you have a prayer against us, you're wrong.'" The university conveyed its message in many ways, including the planting of false rumors. One day Rondeau went to a biology laboratory. Although she knew many of the women, no one would speak to her or even look at her. They were frightened and felt guilty about being frightened. Finally the story came out. A manager had told them that District 65 frequently "forced" pregnant women to walk on picket lines and that miscarriages had resulted.
Like many organizers, Rondeau and Sullivan made tactical mistakes. They unwittingly helped management by engaging in a "paper war"--trading charges and counter-charges in letters to the workers. As the letters flew back and forth, the workers felt caught in the middle of a battle between remote adversaries. This only heightened the perception that management was trying to create--that the union was not a workers' organization but a "third party" interposing itself between the employer and the worker.
Harvard eked out a victory in the second NLRB election, held in April 1981, 390 to 328.
After the Harvard setback, District 65 assigned Sullivan and Rondeau to other campaigns. Sullivan later resigned to care for a new baby. Rondeau went to Yale University in 1981 to help the United Auto Workers (UAW) organize clerical employees. The parent union of District 65 since a 1979 merger, the UAW had taken over the Yale drive and was vying with the Hotel Employees & Restaurant Employees. After investigating the situation in New Haven, Rondeau recommended that the UAW pull out and spend its money more wisely elsewhere. "I could see we were going to get the shit kicked out of us. So I thought I'd tell them [the union officials] and they'd say, 'Oh, my God, thank you so much for telling us!'" Instead, Rondeau was fired. Her judgment was later confirmed when the Hotel and Restaurant union went on to win the NLRB election at Yale in 1983.
By an odd coincidence, however, a regional NLRB office announced on the same day that it would seek a rerun of the 1981 Harvard election on grounds that the university had illegally tried to influence the vote. A half hour after being let go, Rondeau received a phone call from District 65 President David Livingston. He rehired her--"grudgingly," Rondeau says--and dispatched her to Boston to prepare for another Harvard election.
ON TO CAMBRIDGE
In 1984 the NLRB upheld Harvard's contention that a bargaining unit should cover all university employees, including those in the medical area, on the main campus in Cambridge, and as far away as the Primate Research Center in rural Southborough. This meant that the union would have to organize a majority of 3,500 workers spread out over more than 30 square miles, in some 400 separate buildings. Undaunted, Rondeau crossed the Charles River to begin organizing the main campus. She had gained a new organizing partner in Marie Manna. While serving as a community organizer in Boston, Manna became interested in the Harvard effort. She was hired on at the School of Public Health as a clerk, quickly became a union activist, and went on staff in 1981. Low-key and bespectacled, she had a quick political sense and, like Rondeau, an aversion to traditional organizing techniques.
With UAW financial support, Rondeau hired additional organizers from the ranks of activist workers. As former Harvard employees, they knew that their co-workers had no real animosity toward Harvard. Rondeau and her people wisely rejected the "hate-the-boss" theme of traditional union campaigns, and Massachusetts Representative Barney Frank provided a brilliantly apt slogan. While addressing a union rally in 1984, he said, "It's not anti-Harvard to be pro-union." The organizers seized on the expression and had it printed on stickers, buttons, and t-shirts.
As the Harvard drive gained ground, UAW officials--who had stayed out of it until then--began to assert themselves. Recalls Marie Manna, it was as if the men were saying, "'Okay, you girls did a good job up till now. But now it's getting serious and we will have to take over." The trouble was, as Rondeau and Manna saw it, the UAW had no idea how to organize a largely female university support staff.
UAW organizers, mostly men in their forties and fifties who had spent their lives in industrial settings, pressed Rondeau to adopt UAW methods. They wanted her to do more leafletting, to attack the boss, emphasize what the union could win for the workers--all tried-and-true techniques from factory organizing in the 1940s and 1950s. But Rondeau thought that "issues organizing"--that is, emphasizing a few common complaints such as low wages or inadequate benefits--would not work at Harvard. Women workers were more interested in forming social networks and gaining greater participation.
Rondeau and Manna also resisted the UAW's idea of polling Harvard workers. Generally, a union retains a polling firm to do a phone survey. A phone rings in a worker's home and from some remote place come the questions: "Are you miserable at work? Is your supervisor rotten? Do you need more money?" Even if the answer to all of these questions is "yes," it says nothing about whether that particular workplace can be organized. Polling, Rondeau observes, merely reinforces the image of unionism that union-busting consultants try to project: the union is a far-away voice on the phone, soliciting you for the dues you will pay if you join.
Union officials wanted Rondeau and Manna to provide 1,200 names and addresses for a phone survey. To collect the names, UAW officials proposed that they stand in Harvard Square and give out samples of pantyhose with the promise of more to come if the recipient filled out a card. Appalled, the Harvard women ignored the suggestion. Their rebellion came to a head in August 1985. E.W. "Ted" Barrett, director of UAW Region 9A based in Hartford, ordered them to Detroit to help in another organizing drive. Rondeau and Manna interpreted the order as a move to get them out of Harvard. Rondeau tried to get the order rescinded, but Barrett did not respond. When she refused to go, he fired her.
The next morning Barrett met with several staff members and activists. Martha Robb, a former medical school worker who joined the union staff in 1983, recalls that Barrett brushed aside their pleas to let Rondeau stay. "He said you have to decide. 'Do you work for me or Kris?'" When the UAW locked Robb and the other activists out of their office, they quit and went with Rondeau.
Barrett, now retired, regrets the episode but thinks he was right. "Kris was a hell of a good organizer," he says, "but you cannot have people in a large organization change things according to their own whims."
"I have a great respect for the UAW," Rondeau says. "The workers' worst fears were that the union would just be another boss. In this one case, their worst fears came true." Her husband, District 65 official James Braude, was so outraged by the firing he resigned, ending a promising union career. The UAW's support dwindled. Two years later, when the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) took on HUCTW as an affiliate, the UAW agreed to step aside.
With the broad support of worker activists, Rondeau and her staff decided to continue organizing on their own. Thus was born the Harvard Union of Clerical and Technical Workers. The union scraped together some money and rented a room in a Cambridge church for a few mornings each week. Through loans, contributions, and the proceeds from flea markets and talent nights, the union raised over eighteen months about $40,000, barely enough to pay one full-time organizer. The HUCTW staff members agreed to forgo salaries for the duration. Rondeau, Manna, and Robb had working spouses, but others did not.
During HUCTW's independent period, four more Harvard employees left their jobs to work full-time for the union, initially at no pay. William Jaeger, Stephanie Tournas, Ralph Vetters, and Joie Gelband are still on the union staff. Jaeger, who worked in Harvard's Russian Research Center, had the unsettling experience of reporting to his new union job on the first Monday after the breakup. He stayed on without salary (though with some help on living expenses) and in 1991 became director of HUCTW.
The news of HUCTW's secession from the UAW produced smiles in Harvard administration offices. "Our feeling then was, 'We won't hear from the union for years,'" says Anne Taylor, director of Harvard's anti-union campaign. With Rondeau's indigenous movement gone, management thought it could defeat a traditional UAW drive. "If they'd have put out a flyer, we'd have put out a flyer, and we would have beat them," Taylor said in 1992. Breaking away from the UAW "was the luckiest thing that ever happened to Kris and her pals. It forced them to think about things in a different way."
A FEMININE MODEL OF UNIONISM
Without standardized tactics imposed by the UAW, the HUCTW organizers were free to emphasize their own values. These were derived from their knowledge of the Harvard work force and, even more basically, from their upbringing as American women. Most union organizing, like electoral politics, has the overriding goal of votes for the union. Rondeau saw the campaign as a beginning. She wanted to build a community of workers, connected to union leaders and to one another.
HUCTW set out to "create a relationship with every single person, which is as old fashioned as organizing gets," Rondeau says. "One-on-one" organizing, a concept as old as the labor movement, is enjoying revival as a buzzword that ranges in meaning from shallow to deep. Shallow is ringing doorbells, handing out leaflets, or using the "phone tree" technique. HUCTW went to the deep end of one-on-one. Marie Manna says, "We weren't interested in asking, 'Do you think this issue is important, yes or no?' We wanted to build trust. We spend a lot of time talking to people about their personal lives as well as their work lives. It's a slow process. You don't hit them with a barrage of information or questions, or try to sell them. You don't have to talk about the union every minute of the lunch hour. They see you are a person too, not a union robot. That makes a difference in how people think about the organization and the image they have of the union."
The union expresses its values in a sort of litany: "We care about each other. We always treat each other with kindness and respect. It's important to have a sense of humor." But this is not a hollow litany; HUCTW leaders try to follow the principles in practice. As a visitor at staff meetings, I have yet to see anyone attack or chastise anyone else, or speak belligerently, or express sharp disagreement. But this is not a polite social club. The union makes hard decisions based on a wide assortment of opinions that are relentlessly amended, refined, and integrated into a consensus.
The entire "package" of values and techniques might be called, Rondeau hesitantly suggests, "a feminine model of unionism." Her hesitancy comes from not wanting to imply that the model is limited to feminism. Bill Jaeger, the union director and a close associate of the HUCTW women since 1985, explains the model this way: "It definitely celebrates women's ways of learning and leading, but does that without malice toward men."
The model grew naturally out of the women's experiences as employees and organizers, yet resonated with the ideas advanced by authors such as Deborah Tannen in You Just Don't Understand and Carol Gilligan's In a Different Voice. In showing how men and women behave differently because of the way they are socialized, these books confirmed the HUCTW leaders' belief that their nontraditional organizing methods were particularly well-suited to a largely female work force.
BACK INTO THE MAINSTREAM
Independence strengthened HUCTW, but by mid-1987 the union still had not petitioned for an NLRB election. Rondeau needed money to hire more organizers and to retain labor lawyers for the inevitable legal battle that Harvard would wage to oppose an election. In short, HUTCW had to return, reluctantly, to the "mainstream labor movement," as Rondeau describes it, and affiliate with a large AFL-CIO union. But which one, and at what cost to HUCTW's autonomy?
In the summer of 1986, AFSCME's director of public policy, Robert McGarrah, was attending a program at Harvard's Kennedy Center. A large HUCTW poster on a bulletin board caught his attention. "WE BELIEVE IN OURSELVES," read the headline, and below it were the signatures of several hundred pro-union Harvard workers. HUCTW? McGarrah had never heard of it. But he instinctively felt these people knew what they were doing, and a chat with Rondeau convinced him. He reported this practically unknown but "vibrant organizing drive" to Joseph Bonavita, head of AFSCME's District Council 93 in Boston, and Ernest Rewolinski, a top-level aide to President Gerald McEntee.
In the discussions that followed, Rondeau insisted that HUCTW retain its autonomy as an AFSCME local. She did not want outside organizers mucking things up. From the start, she had the support of McGarrah, Rewolinski--a former organizer himself who liked her innovative methods--and Bonavita. They convinced McEntee that organizing Harvard would be "an outstanding coup . . . a symbol of success like almost no other," as McGarrah put it in a report.
In January 1987, HUCTW became AFSCME Local 3650 with a $300,000 organizing grant, no strings attached. As McEntee said in a 1992 interview, "They impressed us as knowing what the hell they were doing, and we wanted them to have their own identity so the boss would have difficulty painting them as this big union from Washington."
Organizing now went forward rapidly. HUCTW had moved into a basement office in an old brick building two blocks from Harvard Square. It was a shabby place of frenetic activity, with tiny cubicles and donated furniture, that became progressively dingier over the years. The union finally moved to a real though still modest office suite only in 1992.
By December 1987, the union was confident enough to begin handing out pledge cards. Several months earlier, Anne Taylor had been moved from Harvard's legal department to the human resources office to lead the anti-union campaign. The campaign centered on the idea that AFSCME would impose restrictive work rules in offices and laboratories and take the members out on strike at every opportunity. Even if HUCTW did not have to knuckle under to the national union, its leaders had no experience in bargaining for staff support people, Taylor argued.
In a 1992 interview, she reflected that HUCTW had bored into the university to a far greater depth than management realized at the time. "Kris and her folks knew us [the university and its work force] better than we did," Taylor said. "She knew what was animating people. By the time we were aware that something was going on, they were unbeatable."
On May 17, 1988, nearly 3,100 workers voted in the third NLRB election at Harvard. That evening hundreds of union supporters, and some managers, sat waiting in Harvard's Sanders Theater while NLRB officials supervised the counting of ballots at the rear of the stage. Hours went by. Rondeau felt "two years beyond nervous." Finally she was called to the stage. Lawyers for both sides were writing numbers on legal pads propped on a piano. A Harvard lawyer clamped a hand over his pad so she couldn't see the total. But a government official came to her and shook hands. She turned to the audience with a smile. Then erupted "the loudest noise" Rondeau had ever heard, as people jumped up and down and laughed and cried. The union had won, with 1,530 workers voting "yes" and 1,486 "no." Ninety percent of eligible workers had cast ballots.
Close votes encourage employers to challenge the outcome. Within days, President Derek Bok announced that the university would seek a rerun. His continuing opposition to the union seemed at odds with his life's work as a teacher of labor law. With his friend John Dunlop, he had coauthored Labor and the American Community, a scholarly but pragmatic study of American unions. It suggests that organized labor, despite flaws, should be accepted as "a valued institution."
Charges of hypocrisy obviously touched a nerve in Bok. He had written a letter to employees in April 1988, stating his concern that a union would inhibit individual initiative and flexibility, which are "at the heart of the academic enterprise." In a 1993 interview, Bok added that the "risks" of unionization had made it incumbent on him to oppose HUCTW, though without intimidating workers. He remembered in particular that a strike in support of unionization at Yale had caused great divisiveness on that campus and possibly hastened Bart Giamatti's departure from the presidency. Bok had no reason to believe that HUCTW would be a different kind of union. But, then, nobody in Harvard management had looked very hard at HUCTW.
THE ODD COUPLE
As the NLRB investigated the conduct of the election in the summer of 1988, Rondeau met occasionally with John Dunlop. They had been introduced in 1987 by Harvard labor economist Richard Freeman, with "Machiavellian" foresight, Freeman later recalled. If anybody could find a "socially desirable solution" to the union question at Harvard, Freeman thought, Dunlop could. At the age of 74, he knew a great deal about the university, having taught on three different faculties. He had also served as dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences during the student protest years, from 1969 to 1973.
The author of ten books, a participant in thousands of collective bargaining situations, a chairman of countless government and industry committees, Dunlop could be crotchety or charming, more authoritarian or less authoritarian, and iron-fisted or velvet-gloved in negotiations--whatever the situation required.
In the early 1980s, when hard-pressed unions began to experiment with labor-management cooperation, Dunlop would scoff at any analyst who dared to suggest there was anything new under the sun in industrial relations. But the dean of labor scholars got on well with Rondeau, the virtually unknown female organizer with unorthodox ideas about the meaning of unionism.
In October 1988, an NLRB administrative law judge upheld the validity of the May election. He described as a "glossy unconfirmed characterization" Harvard's complaint of a pattern of election misconduct by the union.
ORGANIZING DEREK BOK
Five months had passed since the workers voted for union representation and they still did not have it. Bok had to decide whether to carry an appeal to the NLRB in Washington. He called a meeting at his home on a Sunday afternoon. About a dozen people were there, including major deans, administrators, lawyers, Anne Taylor, and John Dunlop. Two persons spoke. Taylor strongly advised Bok to go forward with the appeal. Dunlop counselled the opposite course. The time had come, he said, to settle with the union. He also pointed out that Harvard could avoid further hostilities, by recognizing the union and entering a 60-day get-acquainted "transition period" before trying to negotiate a contract.
Bok also consulted Archibald Cox, the retired Harvard labor law professor who had resigned in protest as special prosector during Watergate. He too counselled peace. Bok took their advice and announced that Harvard would recognize HUCTW. Now they could get on with building a constructive relationship. "I'm glad I didn't prevail," Taylor said later in 1992. "The union has turned out to be a plus."
The "transition period" consisted of a series of meetings over two months. Rondeau chaired a union team of eight or nine members and Dunlop headed a like group of administrative officers. The union also brought in rank-and-file workers to "tell stories" about what it was like to be an employee of Harvard. Since neither side put demands on the table, they could explore freely the past relationship and suggest how it might be changed.
Dunlop also suggested using a neutral facilitator in bargaining to prevent the discussions from wandering afield or lapsing into polemics. His choice, which the union quickly endorsed, was James T. Healy, who had taught economics and industrial relations at Harvard from 1937 to 1981. For most of those years and on to the present, Healy also has served as a labor mediator and arbitrator in nearly every major American industry.
A RULE-LESS CONTRACT
Out of the transition meetings came a joint "understanding" that later would become part of a preamble to the HUCTW-Harvard contract. Noting that administrators, faculty, students and alumni all had played a role in governing Harvard, the preamble says that workers represented by HUCTW also should be "a valued and essential participant in this process." Agreement on this provision marked a critical turn in the relationship. For the first time, Harvard's workers had been granted, on paper at least, a status equivalent to other major groups at the university.
When contract negotiations started in February 1989, the union and the university each named eight separate teams to negotiate in eight subject areas. HUCTW formed a group of 65 members who participated in negotiations and served as a sounding board for the leaders. Dunlop, although he later would be accused by some deans and administrators of running the talks to suit himself, named about 50 managers to various teams.
As he and Rondeau planned, the bargaining became a problem-solving process rather than an adversarial battle. It took four months, but the results were worth the effort. The agreement was most significant for what it did not contain. There were no union work rules involving seniority, job classifications, and such matters. Although work rules are crucial in many factory settings, a university is not a factory. HUCTW leaders believed that prescribing detailed rules would put the workers in a straitjacket and undermine the idea of establishing a participatory workplace. For its part, Harvard did not insist on the usual broad "management rights" clause listing all the areas of decision making that workers are forbidden to enter.
Although HUCTW had not made a big issue of money in the organizing drive, it could hardly settle for less than what Harvard had paid trying to keep it out. In the three years preceding unionization, workers had seen annual pay raises of more than 6 percent. The union emerged with average yearly salary boosts of nearly 10 percent, including new, annual "progression" increases to reward years of service. The settlement also improved pension, insurance, and career development plans and created a child care program.
CHANGING WORKERS' LIVES
A union that does not perform well on bread and butter issues is unlikely to last long enough to be innovative in other ways. The Harvard union more than met the test in the first bargaining round. By 1992, average annual full-time salaries had risen from $19,000 to $24,000. But the participation and problem-solving aspects also have profoundly changed the lives of many members. In the pre-union Harvard, many workers liked their jobs and got on well with immediate supervisors. But this was a largely passive relationship; relatively few workers had the ability to influence decision making in their work areas or to improve the quality of services they rendered to students and faculty.
Since 1989, the union has created, with Harvard, a variety of joint study and decision-making bodies. Hundreds of rank-and-file workers participate in councils, committees, and teams. Many have received training in problem-solving and interpersonal relations, along with their management counterparts. Internally, HUCTW offers further training for members to become active in intra-union affairs such as organizing. All of these activities are voluntary, but an impressive number of workers take part.
According to Carrie Normand, an academic adviser in Harvard's Office of Continuing Education and a member of the joint council in that area, "Everything has changed, from the way I deal with my boyfriend to the way that I deal with my family," she says. "The skills of running a meeting or getting what you need out of a meeting with the personnel officer . . . to meet with a manager and have the manager take you seriously--these are important things. But even more important is the idea of making change. To even think that change is possible is an amazing accomplishment and something that I have learned from the union."
Normand is one of about 300 members who serve in elective and appointive posts. This corps of activists, constituting nearly 10 percent of the membership, and HUCTW's staff engage in continuous organizing. By keeping in touch with all workers, they track changing attitudes about the union and collect ideas to bring to the attention of HUCTW leaders.
Without this activity, HUCTW could soon become an empty shell. Since Harvard's work force has a high turnover rate--nearly 20 percent annually--the union is always organizing new employees. Under HUCTW's "agency shop" agreement, workers do not have to join the union, though nonmembers must pay an agency fee equivalent to regular dues, unless they object. Instead of treating nonmembers as pariahs, HUCTW tries to maintain friendly relations. At staff and organizing meetings, cheers always break out when somebody announces she has just signed up so-and-so after some months or even years of patient effort. On average, nearly 80 percent of eligible workers join the union.
PROBLEM SOLVING AND JOINTNESS
The most unusual and successful feature of the HUCTW-Harvard relationship is a problem-solving substitute for the traditional grievance procedure. Throughout the university, 100 employees serve part-time as elected union representatives resembling stewards in other unions. But these reps do not spend time "policing" the workplace to find contract violations, for there are no rules to violate.
Personnel problems usually involve friction and personality clashes between supervisors and workers. At Harvard, when a worker has a complaint, the union rep first encourages her to try to work it out with the supervisor or personnel manager. The rep provides support but usually encourages the employee to represent herself, the theory being that the union is not a third party but the workers themselves. All else failing, the problem goes to one of 30 "local problem solving teams," consisting of one management and one union representative. If they cannot reach a decision by consensus, a university-wide team is the next step. Finally, an unresolved issue can be referred to Jim Healy, who mediates or acts as an arbitrator with binding decision-making power. As of January 1993, only seven complaints had to be settled in mediation, none by arbitration.
Joint councils are the principal voice mechanisms for HUCTW members. As of May 1993, 40 joint councils had been established with about 140 elected union members and the same number of managers. They exist in all schools and major administrative units, meet at least biweekly, and are co-chaired by union and management people. A university joint council, consisting of union and management officials, supervises this process.
Joint councils are emphatically not instruments of "codetermination" on major administrative issues. They do not get involved in decisions on curriculum and faculty hiring and tenure, and Harvard's deans retain total control over strategic decisions involving finance, budgeting, program funding, and physical expansion.
Rather, the councils have acted largely on quality-of-worklife issues--work schedules, physical comfort, allocation of office space, and health and safety guidelines. Some managers use the councils as sounding boards for impending policy decisions, and in many areas the councils have improved communications between management and employees. These improvements may not seem earthshaking, but they represent real progress for a work force that never had a voice in anything. Furthermore, some joint councils have developed important departmental policies on reorganizing work and shifting jobs. Deans and administrators may reject a recommendation, though this seldom happens.
Top-level management commitment to the joint councils has been moderate. None of the major deans takes part in joint council discussions; faculty are seldom involved; and in some cases the management appointees have too little power to implement council recommendations. Still, an increasing number of middle-level managers are committed to participation.
Joel Monell, administrative dean of the School of Education, co-chair of a joint council in his area, has never rejected a council recommendation. In one major project, the joint council produced a case study showing how employees can be involved in reorganizing jobs as new programs start and old ones end. "Overall," he says, "the union has been good for the School of Education and good for the university, though not everybody would agree with me on that. But I don't see the notion of consulting with people in the workplace as all that revolutionary."
WANTED: A PARTNER FOR THE UNION
Monell, of course, is right; worker participation is not revolutionary. In fact, there is plenty of evidence--some of it produced by Harvard professors--that union-based participation in private industry has improved productivity and the quality of goods and services. In many corporations, management understands this and is pushing participation, even imposing it on skeptical unions. At Harvard, however, upper-level management has only tentatively embraced employee involvement. The driving force behind the idea is HUCTW.
John Dunlop, for one, believes HUCTW can help produce "a vastly improved management system." The fact is that Harvard, though a leading-edge teaching and research institution, lags far behind other American employers in crafting innovative human resource policies. One of the major ironies of the HUCTW story is that while many Harvard professors work on the side as highly paid management consultants, Harvard itself has never had a top-notch human resources staff. "It has not been distinguished," Dunlop says bluntly.
Managing people in a university is difficult because there are two sets of bosses-- faculty and administrators--whose interests frequently clash. A union, Dunlop says, can help managers deal with interpersonal problems, or sexual harassment questions, that are complicated by a tenured professorate. "How a secretary handles a student is a matter of enormous importance," Dunlop adds. "Whether she gives a damn or not helps to create an atmosphere in the university. She's got to be recognized as an important part of the total. The union permits a conscientious management to get things done faster and more effectively than it could on its own."
The union already has shown itself to be flexible on matters such as phasing out jobs as research projects shift. It has even cooperated in shrinking the absolute size of the bargaining unit in some areas, as long as individual members were not laid off. In many instances, HUCTW has suggested ways of improving services for students and faculty. Managers of individual units eagerly snap up these ideas.
But, Rondeau says, there is no management partner to engage in a dialogue on university-wide issues. "University communities," Rondeau adds, "are just packed with potential to improve the institution through `jointness'. It's a fertile area for experimentation in change and design and redesign. And we would love to have a partner. But we don't." Indeed, in 1991, her previous partner, Dunlop, was pushed aside by some of his colleagues.
THE END OF THE DUNLOP ERA
In mid-1991, just before Rudenstine replaced Bok as president, Dunlop resigned as management chair of the university joint council--and thus as Harvard's chief negotiator. Dunlop will not discuss what prompted the resignation, but there is little doubt that he wanted to stay on. Bok, however, asked Dunlop to resign as Rudenstine prepared to take over. One understandable reason was that the Rudenstine administration wanted to develop a new generation of labor-relations managers.
More disturbing, according to sources, a small group of influential deans and personnel officers pressed for Dunlop's ouster on grounds that he was too "pro-union." The anti-Dunlop people complained that he did not properly consult them during the 1989 negotiations. As a result, it was said, Harvard gave away too much in terms of both money and influence to the union. This group reportedly included John H. McArthur, dean of the business school, and Daniel C. Tosteson, dean of the medical school, along with high-level administrators in the faculty of arts and sciences and the law school.
McArthur, for example, wrote a curious letter to his faculty in early 1992 about the "somewhat novel approach or philosophy" of the 1989 labor agreement. "Most people [faculty]" in his school "were never closely involved in" the bargaining, he sharply noted, adding that they "did not know what exactly was being discussed or agreed upon in this domain. Nor was there an opportunity to explore with everyone what the implications might be." In a tentative way, McArthur said that the new approach seems "very constructive and sensible," but his pointed references to a lack of involvement obviously were directed at Dunlop.
The laments of the anti-Dunlop group became widely known around Harvard. Vivienne Rubeski, the labor relations director, said in 1992, "They don't have a leg to stand on." In a 1993 interview, Bok also discounted their objections and pointed out that all the chief deans approved the settlement before it went into effect.
Nonetheless, Dunlop's opponents prevailed in 1992. Bok had assigned labor relations and human resources to Sally H. Zeckhauser, vice president for administration, and named her chief negotiator. David Bray, administrative dean of the medical school, and Rubeski also were named to the management team. Unfortunately, as Harvard and HUCTW prepared for a second round of bargaining, Rubeski had to quit work because of illness. She died of cancer in June. Neither Zeckhauser nor Bray had ever negotiated a labor contract. Policy was set by Rudenstine and his Council of Deans, which monitored the talks more closely than in 1989, and the anti-Dunlop deans demanded a hold-the-line policy that gave the negotiators little room to maneuver.
ALARM OVER 'CO-MANAGEMENT'
There also was a grave problem of perception on the management side. In 1989, labor pros Dunlop, Healy, and Bok understood that they were dealing with a different kind of union. But in 1992 HUCTW's unorthodox style of unionism seemed to confuse Rudenstine and the deans. Rondeau had not been content merely to react to management decisions; she had vigorously worked the back channels, lobbying for changes in the way Harvard did things. Unions were not supposed to do that. What was Rondeau driving at? The expansion of employee participation worried some of the deans, says a source who knew management's thinking. They darkly suspected that Rondeau's ultimate goal was "co-management," a term that aroused much alarm among the deans--even though the union had never used it.
After extended consultations, Rudenstine and his deans and administrators issued a public statement reaffirming Harvard's commitment to the philosophy of participation expressed in the 1989 HUCTW agreement and expressing strong support for the "innovative and unique" relationship that had developed at Harvard. Although HUCTW welcomed the statement, the union worried about a continuing tendency to fragment human resources instead of developing uniform, university-wide policies. Rudenstine and most of the deans also remained aloof from the union, dealing with Rondeau and other HUCTW leaders through administrators rather than on a personal basis. To the union it appeared that nobody was in charge. (Rudenstine declined to be interviewed for this article.)
Negotiations for a new contract made little progress in the spring and summer of 1992. Jim Healy was called in to mediate, but even he appeared to be tainted in the eyes of some managers by his friendship with Dunlop and involvement in the 1989 talks. In one bargaining session, management negotiator David Bray disparaged Healy's efforts. Healy walked out. Asked some weeks later to mediate again, he rejected the invitation in a letter, saying he obviously did not have the undivided trust of Harvard management.
The two sides were nowhere near settlement on June 30, the contract expiration date. HUCTW members worked without a contract and continued bargaining. For the next six months, there were minor advances and retreats characteristic of bargaining between two sides that have lost trust in one another. Sally Zeckhauser argued in a 1993 interview that the union did not appreciate Harvard's constrained financial condition. As at all other colleges, tuition income and government grants had not increased as rapidly as costs. There was no indication, however, that the union demanded an out-of-line pay increase. Indeed, as far back as May 1992, Rondeau and Bill Jaeger urged union activists to dampen expectations of large increases.
When the settlement finally came, there seemed no good reason for the six-month delay. Formally, HUCTW had asked for more than the 15.5 percent three-year salary increase that it gained. But in reality it retreated very little from what it had always thought was attainable. It also won a novel "work security" provision. Employees who lose their jobs because of reorganization will have preferential hiring rights in other departments. At HUCTW's urging, Harvard has developed a "Domestic Partners" health insurance plan.
When I began interviewing top-level Harvard managers, before the 1992 bargaining, opinions about the union were quite positive. Zeckhauser said the union had forced the highly decentralized university to manage itself better. HUCTW's communications network, with information channeling up from bottom levels, provided a far more comprehensive picture of the university than reports from deans and administrators. "This is the first time there is a group of people that is able to reflect what we are as a single institution," Zeckhauser said. Moreover, HUCTW had not turned the Harvard workplace into a rule-ridden battleground as many managers had feared. "I think we have an extraordinary amount of flexibility," she said.
Vivienne Rubeski had fought union organizers as a manager in the medical school during the 1970s. "But the union turned out to be great," she said. "We believed in the same way of solving problems, not to point fingers but to find a solution so everybody is satisfied."
Still, many managers consider the union an upstart. Jim Healy says, "I don't think they have enough awareness of what goes on in the world to realize what an extraordinary value they have in a relationship like this." Although the union resorted to tactics that bordered on light-hearted harassment during the lengthy contract stand-off, there was no inclination among union members to call a halt to the ongoing system of valued workplace cooperation. "Why should we bang heads?" said Rita Perloff, a secretary in the business school and union executive board member. "If we drop jointness, we'd be divorcing the university. You don't let a few shitheads mess it up just because they have power temporarily."
A NEW MODEL?
Kris Rondeau and her associates created a powerful model for organizing a predominantly female service sector work force and using the union as a vehicle of workplace collaboration. With the HUCTW philosophy and techniques, she and her staff were instrumental in winning representation elections in 1991 at the University of Minnesota, with 3,100 workers, and the University of Illinois, with more than 2,000 workers. The new AFSCME locals at these schools, however, are operating under somewhat more traditional contracts.
Rondeau has become AFSCME's assistant national organizing director in charge of higher education. Her Harvard staff doubles as a regional organizing task force, working in campaigns at Middlebury, Tufts, and the University of Massachusetts Medical Center at Worcester. Rondeau is informally advising employee groups at a dozen other universities.
The largely nonunion support staffs at private universities obviously present a fertile field for organizing drives. But to what extent can the HUCTW philosophy and organizing strategy work elsewhere? Campus settings are unique in many ways. Even if support workers at universities have little "voice," the tradition of collegiality provides an opening that does not characterize most nonunion workplaces. A relatively relaxed and tolerant environment makes it easy for organizers to talk to employees. The atmosphere is not overtly repressive, and the existence of faculty makes it hard for management to use intimidating tactics. Universities cannot relocate, nor can they ignore public opinion. And in today's collective bargaining climate, there are few John Dunlops with the knowledge and influence to bring management along as a committed partner--and even fewer who have collaborated on a book with the CEO.
Even so, the Harvard model should have wide influence. It offers win-win solutions to the twin problems of productivity and worker disaffection. Managers, after all, say they want employee collaboration. But too few have been willing to accept true collaboration in a union setting, in part because of a fear of traditional unionism. If the Clinton administration can enact labor law reform to give organizers a level playing field, the Harvard model can work in other settings. "Whether it's a black woman working in a chicken factory, or a truck driver, or a private secretary, they have no power," says Rondeau. "Powerlessness is awful. People really do want to be heroes in their own lives."