By Segan Helle
Workers and students protest after UHS employee complains of harassment and is terminated
By SEGAN HELLE
Students and union members protested in front of the Smith Campus Center on February 15 in response to the termination of former University Health Services (UHS) employee Mayli Shing. Shing has brought allegations of discrimination and unjust termination against the University, believing that she was taken off of payroll in retaliation for complaints she filed against her former supervisor. Protestors are urging Harvard administration to rehire Shing immediately.
“The picket we did yesterday was one of the biggest ones we’ve ever been able to do for just one person. The fact that we were able to put it together less than two weeks tells me that with more planning and building our alliances, the next one is going to be bigger,” Geoffrey Carens, Shing’s representative from the Harvard Union of Clerical and Technical Workers (HUCTW), said.
Shing, a first generation immigrant and mother of two, received a termination letter on February 6 after over ten years of working at Harvard. The letter references the fact that Shing, who took public transportation to work each day, often arrived before her scheduled hours. The letter states that following “numerous warnings,” Shing was terminated after “sitting at [her] desk at 8:30 a.m., well before [her] scheduled 9 a.m. starting time,” labeling her actions as “insubordinate conduct.”
“I’ve never seen anything like that. I’ve been a rep for almost 30 years now, and I’ve never seen such a fragile basis for discipline,” Carens said.
Leading up to Shing’s termination was a series of events that Carens describes as creating “a really difficult situation for her,” including shortening Shing’s work hours from 35 to 17.5 after she returned from disability leave and enforcing strict regulations regarding times that Shing had to complete certain tasks by. As a result, Shing, who worked to resolve issues regarding employee paychecks, had trouble finishing her work in the allotted time frame. Carens asserts that she was being treated disparate to her coworkers.
“They weren’t making any allowances for what her job is really like,” Carens said. “It seemed like they were trying to coerce her into either leaving or put her into this tight little box, so, like she said, it felt like she was being set up to fail.”
Shing reportedly filed complaints against her supervisor regarding accusations of sexual harassment, racial comments, and the working conditions she was put under. Carens alleges that management responded by putting a letter in her file that threatened her with termination.
“They put a letter in her file basically saying, ‘if you ever do that again, we will terminate you,’ and that really cuts across the workers right to complain about their working conditions,” Carens said. “There’s been so many mistakes that they made in the way that they handled this.”
Protests last Thursday were headed by members of the HUCTW as a part of the the Harvard No Layoffs Campaign, alongside students from the Student Labor Action Movement (SLAM). The two groups were joined by members of other university unions like the Harvard University Dining Services Union. Shing has also received official support from the Boston School Bus Drivers’ Union.
“Time is up on remaining silent when we are harassed or see others harassed. Let’s support our sister, Mayli. Let’s lift ourselves up by lifting other up,” Desiree Goodwin of HUCTW said while leading a chant at the picket.
According to Carens, Shing is in the process of finding a new job. The two are currently working towards filing a complaint at the Massachusetts Commision Against Discrimination. A lawsuit against the University is also pending.
When asked to comment on Shing’s case, Harvard representative Tania deLuzuriaga wrote, “As a matter of policy, we do not comment on individual personnel matters, but all complaints of discrimination and sexual harassment are investigated thoroughly and fairly. Harvard is committed to maintaining a safe, comfortable, and diverse working environment for all of its employees. We value the contributions of our employees, and have enjoyed a long and productive relationship with our campus unions.”
Carens is hopeful that public pressure will help resolve the matter more quickly.
“I think it’s going to take a combination of public pressure, legal pressures, and media, to get a good result, unless Harvard gets smarter and realizes that this has legs and people are upset.”
Segan Helle (firstname.lastname@example.org) and the rest of staff will provide updates on Mayli’s story as events unfold.