Joan Frankel Under Attack
Harvard University, like a lot of employers, seems to want to shed as many older workers as possible. With a combination of “voluntary” retirements, mass layoffs, and leaving vacant jobs unfilled, the university has gotten rid of hundreds of experienced clerical workers over the last couple of years. Lately as a union rep I’ve been seeing growing numbers of older workers who are getting lousy job reviews, radically-increased workloads, unfair discipline and thinly-veiled hints that they should “know when to quit.” Some are even getting fired; it’s cheaper to fire a worker than to lay her off. Most of the workers in my union are women.
HUCTW member Joan Frankel’s case is especially glaring.
Joan has 24 years of great performance evaluations. She was promoted repeatedly, most recently in 2008. Her current supervisor gave her a positive performance review in ’09. She has an excellent reputation as a skilled, dedicated worker. But in the last year, it was like someone important decided Joan had been at Harvard too long. First her job duties were massively increased. Then she began to face ridiculous discipline and threats of being fired. She was accused of “insubordination” for suggesting a package could be shipped by ground instead of by air, potentially saving the university money! Management knew Joan’s mother was seriously ill while they were harassing my union sister and threatening to terminate her. Joan was fired one day after her mother’s death. At the time I wrote to management, explaining that her mother had just died, and asking that her firing at least be put off to allow Joan some breathing space. Although Joan was still a union member, and entitled to bereavement leave, management refused even this request. It’s like they wanted to inflict maximum pain and pressure on an employee who had done superb work for decades. Throughout all the pressure and harassment, right up to her last day on the job, Joan continued to do her usual excellent work.
Joan has filed an age discrimination lawsuit with the MA Commission Against Discrimination (MCAD). On September 30, union members, students and community activists, rallied in support of Joan. The Student Labor Action Movement was a big part of the crowd. We held a demonstration in front of Holyoke Center, Harvard’s main administrative building. Riot Folksinger Evan Greer performed versions of the militant workers’ anthem “Solidarity Forever,” and his rousing “Picketline Song.” Radical cheerleaders Boston Sass Attack urged the crowd, “Resist! Resist! Raise up your fist!” as we got ready to march to Joan’s workplace at SEAS (School of Engineering and Applied Sciences). Colette Perold from SLAM pledged students’ future support in a great address to demonstrators. Then the march began. We attracted a lot of attention as we paraded through Harvard yard chanting “Joan Frankel under attack; what do we do? Stand up, fight back!” The action was written up in the Harvard Crimson and helped put pressure on management to rehire Joan, who will accept nothing less than reinstatement.
Harvard’s latest gift to Joan: now they’re even fighting her claim for unemployment benefits, which the state unemployment agency determined she is owed! Please watch out for more pickets & events in support of Joan. Union members and students will not accept the injustice to which she has been subjected.
--Geoff Carens, Union Rep, HUCTW/AFSCME local 3650