Harvard plans for job cuts

A Harvard clerical worker describes the university's plan to cut back on the jobs in its library system--despite being the world's wealthiest institution of higher education.

Harvard LibraryHarvard Library

HARVARD UNIVERSITY boasts a top-notch academic library system, comprising 90 different libraries holding 16 million volumes. As the wealthiest institution of higher learning in the world--Harvard's 2011 endowment was worth $32 billion--it certainly can afford such a monstrous collection.

Behind all those books are an ample staff of dedicated library workers and professionals. Unfortunately, the managers of the Harvard Libraries are trying to make it otherwise.

On January 19, the library's executive director announced intentions to reorganize the library system, including changes and reductions in the 900 library positions currently in existence. This would include layoffs, cuts in hours and job reclassifications. Beyond this, Harvard executives have been extremely tight-lipped about the plan.

In the meantime, Harvard is beginning to offer library workers a meager "voluntary early retirement" package as an alternative to layoffs. All library staff have been asked to participate in a series of meetings to be held over the next several weeks in which each worker will be invited to submit an "employee profile" into a general pool. These "profiles," comprising each worker's skills, strengths, etc., will then be used by management to decide which workers to keep in their current jobs, which ones to re-assign to different jobs, and which ones to layoff.

What you can do

Sign an online petition against library layoffs.

Library workers are extremely nervous about the whole proposal, and many are angry at the prospect of losing their jobs in such a horrible economy. The idea of Harvard cutting jobs when it clearly has the money to maintain its entire workforce (either through retraining or otherwise) is insulting.

Most of the library staff are in the Harvard Union of Clerical and Technical Workers (HUCTW)--an affiliate of AFSCME Local 3650--but the union leadership has thus far made no indication that it plans to challenge the layoffs with any real fightback.

Nonetheless, many Harvard workers and student supporters are determined to build a campaign against the attack. An inaugural meeting of an ad hoc coalition against layoffs drew a dozen or so of the most active rank-and-file library workers in the union, student representatives from the Student Labor Action Movement, and several student activists from Occupy Harvard.

The coalition decided on some immediate steps, including picketing the various meetings being organized by library executives, circulating petitions and planning for a large labor-student rally on campus. All union members present expressed the desire to continue strongly encouraging HUCTW officials to mobilize a fightback.

At the end of the day, this fight is about pushing back against the corporatization of education. Universities should be first and foremost about learning, not making money.