City council urges no layoffs

Campus labor rally planned for noon today

The Cambridge City Council unanimously passed two labor-related resolutions on Monday. The first requests that Harvard and MIT cease further layoffs as well as hour, salary, and pay cuts. The second requests that the Cambridge License Commission consider a regulation preventing Cambridge hotels from subcontracting housekeeping services.

In coordination with the resolution, MIT labor groups are planning a rally at noon today in room 1-190 to discuss budgeting and layoff concerns hear at MIT.

Council resolution

The council requested “that Harvard and MIT cease further layoffs and any cuts in hours, salary or benefits and engage in an open and transparent dialogue with all stakeholders including staff and the community.”

The resolution cited both Harvard and MIT as major employers in Cambridge and said that since both universities were recipients of taxpayer support, they were obligated to have a “broad public mission.” The resolution called for both institutions to use their savings to “cushion employees and communities from any further harm.”

The resolution was co-sponsored by longtime City Councilor Marjorie C. Decker and freshman City Councilor Leland Cheung, who is also an MIT graduate student.

In an interview with the Cambridge Chronicle, Cheung said, “We see the universities as community members. These hirings affect the community as well.”

During the council meeting, Decker said that the City Council must be pro-worker before it can be pro-business.

The council resolution originated from lobbying by recently laid-off workers, according to Alexi I. Goranov PhD ’06, a postdoc and active member of the MIT Student Worker Alliance. “I would like MIT to continue to be a leader in the area of science and technology, but not at the expense of people’s lives,” he said.

“It’s not a protest,” said Goranov.

The MIT Student-Worker Alliance is hosting a rally at noon tomorrow in 1-190 to “explore ways to help MIT and its unions determine fair and competitive wages and benefits,” Goranov said.

MIT Campus Police union representatives will be also be attendance, according to Officer Louis C. Rosa, an officer of the Campus Police Association.

The event, a “solidarity gathering,” is organized by the Alliance as well as the Massachusetts Interfaith Committee for Worker Justice, and Councilor Decker is expected to attend, Goranov said.

No MIT response

MIT Vice President for Human Resources Alison Alden, referred inquiries late Thursday to HR Communications Manager Janet B. Walzer, who could not be reached for comment.

Generally speaking, MIT does not plan layoffs centrally, an MIT official told The Tech in March. Instead, in a budget crunch, individuals schools receive financial targets, which they try to address without cutting staff, but after several years of budget cuts, that becomes difficult.

Those financial targets are passed from the school level to the department level, leading to different departments laying off staff at different times and in different ways, though all the layoffs are ultimately coordinated with Human Resources.

Council virtually powerless

The City Council may pass resolutions and policy orders but it has no legal right or ability to enforce them.

In March 2009, the council passed a similar resolution sponsored by Decker where it asked “two of its largest employers to consider making the sacrifice to weather the tough economic times out without resorting to cutting its lowest wage workers for economic relief.”

Decker also proposed offering the universities the funding necessary to reinstate recently fired employees. The council took no action on her stimulus proposal.

In addition to the Council’s resolution regarding labor cuts at MIT and Harvard, on Monday the City Council also passed a policy order in support of the “adoption of a regulation by the License Commission to prohibit licensed hotels from subcontracting housekeeping services such as guest room service.”

According to the policy order, this resulted from public health and safety concerns raised when the Hyatt Regency-Cambridge began subcontracting its housekeeping services to an unlicensed third party company.