Harvard Food Workers Strike: Working with the Whole Equation

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October 5, 2016; Boston Globe

Hundreds of food service workers at Harvard University walked off their jobs Wednesday after the contract talks that had been going on since May failed. Their most current contract expired September 17th.

UNITE HERE Local 26, the union representing the 750 food service workers at Harvard, acknowledges that the school’s hourly wages for food workers are the highest in the region at $22/hour—but union local president Brian Lang says that is not the point and Harvard knows it.

“It’s convenient for Harvard to talk about hourly wage when really what we’re talking about is annual income,” Lang said, explaining that with academic breaks factored in, employees suffer through long periods without paid work and during those periods most are ineligible for unemployment. And while now the average worker makes about $30,000 a year, the union is asking for $35,000. Out of that the workers pay $3,000 a year in health care premium. Harvard has offered a summer “stipend” but workers say the offer is too low.

Harvard professor Lawrence Katz and Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor emeritus Robert McKersie have been chosen as mediators.

The strike is Harvard’s first since June 1983, when dining employees held a one-day work stoppage during the summer recess. Students have since organized support actions.

About 25,000 meals are served each day in Harvard’s dining halls. The Harvard Crimson reports that Harvard has been stockpiling frozen food in the anticipation of the strike. Does the Harvard $37.6 billion endowment get brought up? Yes, indeed, as does the $7 billion recently raised ahead of schedule in its most recent campaign. The union seems to be working with the whole equation, including the fact that the students see and are fed by these same workers every day.—Ruth McCambridge