Labor Activists Protest Harvard Layoffs Citing Discrimination
Cambridge, Mass. - Labor activists, Harvard University employees, and friends and family rallied today in Cambridge to protest the laying off of three University Financial Services workers, citing apparent discrimination.
The emergency rally was held with just a day of notice, after Darlene Tate, a Harvard staffer with more than 25 years of experience in accounts payable, was informed Thursday she was being laid off shortly after returning from disability leave.
Tate is the third employee in the department to be laid off in the past six months. All three are people of color, over 40, and two have history with disabilities, according to the statement released by Geoff Carens, a library assistant at Harvard's Lamont Library and union representative with Harvard Union Clerical and Technical Workers/AFSCME Local 3650. Activists are calling for the immediate reinstatement of Tate and the other two employees involved, noting that all Caucasian employees in their unit are keeping their jobs.
Harvard spokesman Kevin Galvin declined to comment on the layoffs, because he is unable to comment on personnel matters.
Despite the freezing temperatures, about 25 bundled-up protestors showed up at Harvard Square at noon and marched down Massachusetts Avenue to picket outside the building that houses Financial Services.
“Hey Harvard you’ve got cash, why do you treat your workers like trash?” they chanted, carrying signs protesting discrimination, such as “3 layoffs here, all 3 are workers of color; Harvard does discriminate!”
Representatives from the Industrial Workers of the World, Service Employees International Union, HUCTW and Common Struggle were in attendance, as were Darlene Tate, her daughter Charlene, and a few other friends and family members.
Tate said the university told employees in March they would be reorganizing the department and offered them a severance package, after which supervisors began monitoring productivity to rate performance. But, she said, the metrics were inconsistent and unfair.
“I feel my manager changed it when he felt like it. He would set a rule today and it might change in an hour from now, two hours from now, next week,” she said.
Carens said the employees were subjected to horrific stress, pressured to outperform their colleagues or lose their jobs. He wrote extensively about the work environment in Harvard’s Perspective Magazine in October, citing great pressure on the veteran staff and noting that they were replaced with temporary staff following the layoffs.
Two employees were laid off in the fall, and Tate was told Thursday she was being laid off, immediately after returning from disability leave with doctor approval, she said.
“I would like them to give me an apology; I would like for them to give me back my position along with the other two people that were laid off, because I believe we were done unjust,” Tate said.
Carens said he and the employees would soon be meeting with a labor attorney and considering discrimination charges.