Judy has worked at the Harvard Law School Cafeteria for many years. In 2011, the cafeteria voted to join Unite Here Local 26, and have union representation. Before the union, however, Judy says the workers “dealt with a lot of discrimination, being from other nationalities, there was a lot of racism. They didn’t respect any seniority. We were overworked, a lot of the same conditions we are dealing with right now.” After the union won, Law School management tried to adhere to the contract, but the moment management started to think that the union was weak, they made conditions worse once again, according to Judy.
Judy has seen this discrimination at her job firsthand. On December 21st, 2013, Judy came into work early to work on a grievance. The manager saw her come in, and everything was fine. Another worker, seeing Judy walk in, came up to her and started talking about how during her shift, she was not allowed to take a break and get a drink of water. The worker, who was in her late 70’s, had subsequently fallen and hit her head on the job. Judy, who was concerned by this, said she would talk to management about the topic. Management had decided that if a worker only works 4 hour shifts, they would not receive breaks, although the contract said differently. Judy and the other workers argued against this, and they came to an agreement which resolved the problem.
Afterwards, management asked Judy to clock in to work early. Judy did so, and went downstairs, where she found two managers hanging around. They were in the office with the union shop steward. The managers were trying to write her up for a violation that had happened over a month earlier. Judy and the union shop steward protested saying that the incident happened a month before and management had done nothing in that month. Judy refused to sign the violation.
After this meeting, Judy went to actually start her shift. She started cleaning up, and preparing for a catered function. She saw another manager, C., who works in administration, and is technically a client of the cafeteria. C. began complaining about the students, and said that Judy could just leave the students’ mess and that others would clean it up later. Judy cleaned it anyways, knowing that she could get in trouble. As she was telling this to C., another manager, K., walked in and heard Judy say “I can’t do that, I’m going to get in trouble, that is part of my job” and came over and started saying “you are badmouthing us to the client, come downstairs, I can’t take this anymore”. K. took Judy downstairs, called another manager, and told them that Judy was saying bad things to the clients. Judy protested, knowing that was not true, and asked them to talk to C. C. unhelpfully said she did not want to get involved, leading to Judy getting written up.
After this incident, at about 7:30 that evening, Judy was cleaning up after the party. She sees K., the manager, cooking at a station. This is a union position, and Judy took note while she waited for clean dishes. The head chef came over, and Judy asked why K. was working at the cooking station when it is a union position that Judy herself had applied for a month previously. The chef said he hadn’t chosen anyone, and hadn’t wanted to choose at that point. Judy said that was fine, and continued working, exiting the dish room and pressing the button for the elevator. As she waited for the elevator, she wrote a few notes on a notepad about what she saw K. do- working at the cooking station in a union position even though K. is a manager.
At that moment, K. walked out of the dish room. She saw Judy writing and asked what she was doing. Judy put the notepad away and said that she was waiting for the elevator. K. said “no you’re not! You are being insubordinate. How many times to we have to tell you about writing things down?” Judy said that she was just waiting for the elevator, and that she was not doing anything wrong. K. said no, then took Judy’s hand and pressed it against the cart, saying that Judy was insubordinate. Judy pulled her hand away and said, “Don’t assault me”. Other managers came over, and cornered Judy. Judy, feeling threatened, asked to call the police for K.’s assault, which the other managers refused to do. Judy pushed out of the circle of managers, and called the police. The dispatcher told her to leave the building to a place where she would feel safe. Judy did so, and she went to the front of the building and waited for a police car to come by.
While Judy was outside, one of the managers took the liberty of going to a security guard nearby. Judy flagged a police car and explained what had happened. The security guard which management had spoken to came out and interrupted, telling the police officer whom Judy was conversing with that he had the story and that the officer was no longer needed. The police officer then left. The security guard asked for Judy’s ID, which he then confiscated, saying “take this as a verbal warning, you are not longer welcome on any of Harvard’s premises, you have been terminated”. Judy asked why, and the guard said that she had been terminated for the write up that had occurred earlier in the day, unrelated to the current incident. Judy was told to call the police in a week for the police report- which was never filed.
Upset about the turn of events, Judy investigated to attempt to prove that it had been her who called the police, before the managers. However, a judge agreed with Harvard’s request for a no-trespassing order for Judy, even though no police report detailing the incident with Judy was ever filed. The only police report is the one filed by the management, which states a different version of events- and Judy cannot access that report, because Harvard has made it a closed, private file. Judy has been waiting ever since December for Harvard management to begin a grievance procedure for her termination. So far, no meeting has taken place, and Judy is unemployed. As Judy notes, “not only are they harassing us on the job, they are destroying lives… What if I didn’t have a husband to help me out? I’d be homeless with my two kids.”
Judy thinks that she was laid off in a coordinated attempt to hurt worker organizing at the Law School. “In the twenty years I’ve been working, it is the first time I have been fired- and it was for union activity.” Judy notes that the harassment charges that Harvard management levied against her all had to do with her union activity- asking for grievances, demanding higher pay, and other types of legally protected union activity.
According to Judy, this incident has dovetailed with other incidents of discrimination and harassment in the workplace. Before she was fired, a manager commented to her, “what is it with you people, it’s like you all are animals running around here, speaking another language”. Judy laughed the incident off at the time, but racist comments like that pervade the workplace. In another incident, D., a chef and a manager, called another worker a “monkey”. These incidents offend the workers, and illustrate the failure of Harvard management to treat workers respectfully.
The management’s tactics have not dampened Judy’s spirit. “All I’ve ever wanted to do is cook”, Judy says, and she is hopeful that Harvard will stop its anti-union discriminatory practices and give her the opportunity to cook at Harvard once again.
Interview, transcription, and narrative by Gabriel Bayard ’15.