Wringing concessions from a school with a $20 billion endowment.... 21-day Harvard living wage occupation ends May/June 2001
What follows is a report from the Harvard Living Wage Campaign :
What We've Won
The Living Wage Campaign ended our sit-in May 15 with a remarkable victory. After 21 days of action by students, workers, unions, faculty, alumni/ae, parents, community groups, and political figures, the Harvard administration was forced to make several immediate concessions, and to institute a process that, properly carried out, should bring a living wage policy to our entire university within a year. This outcome is nothing short of amazing when one considers that a month ago, Harvard administrators promised us that a living wage would never even be considered again at Harvard. The concessions they made on Tuesday are testaments to the extraordinary power of our community's collective action.
The specific victories that we won on Tuesday are as follows:
The university will create a committee composed of workers, faculty, students, and administrators. The committee is charged with improving the lives of Harvard's lowest-paid workers by examining precisely the issues raised by the Living Wage Campaign: the creation of a wage floor, guidelines for subcontracting, and the availability of benefits. Unlike the Mills committee which [Harvard President Neil] Rudenstine appointed in 1999, the new committee is required to collect information from all members of our community, including service workers, and it requires investigation into the cost of living in the Boston area. Moreover, the presence of three workers on the committee, selected by their unions, as well as students, makes this a committee unlike any previously seen at Harvard. The committee must submit its findings and proposals by December 2001.
Until the committee submits its findings, the university will place a moratorium on subcontracting for all security guard, dining service, and janitorial jobs. The existence of this moratorium assumes the subsequent adoption of progressive restrictions on subcontracting.
As soon as the committee releases its recommendations, the university will reopen its contract with SEIU 254, the union that represents both directly-hired and subcontracted janitors at Harvard. The wage increases that result will be retroactive to May 1, 2001.
Harvard's dining hall workers won important concessions, including an assurance that their contract negotiations, which conclude in June, will be satisfactory to workers and the union. This clause all but guarantees dining hall workers a living wage in their contract.
Harvard has agreed to improve implementation of the Mills committee's report. Improved implementation should extend health benefits and ESL classes to hundreds of Harvard workers.
These victories were supplemented by several others along the way:
Roughly a week into the sit-in, Harvard agreed not to reclassify 100 dining workers at the Business School. For months, these workers had been slated for reclassification, which would have cut their wages and benefits below the living wage standard without altering their duties.
During the course of the sit-in, supporters donated $10,000 to the Harvard Workers' Center. The Workers' Center is an organizing center and legal resource for campus workers be gun this year by students at the Law School.
The unified commitment of our community emerged as one of the greatest victories of the sit-in. During the last three weeks, the coalition built through two-and-a-half years of organizing came together with extraordinary power and focus. We received support from every campus union, more than 400 faculty members, hundreds of national unions and community organizations, every House Master, the AFL-CIO, graduate students at every school, four U.S. Senators, the Boston and Cambridge City Councils, and individuals from Robert Reich to Noam Chomsky. The commitment of this coalition is the greatest assurance we have that the promises the university made on Tuesday will come to fruition.
The victories brought by the sit-in promise to improve the lives of hundreds of Harvard workers, and to permanently shift the administration's assumptions about university decision-making. These gains--especially when extracted from a $19 billion corporation--are truly cause for celebration. Throughout the sit-in, we were overwhelmed by the support and commitment of our entire community, and today, we could not be more proud of what we have won together.
Where Do We Go From Here?
Our task today, and for the next year, is to see that the initial victory we won this spring becomes the full victory we have sought for nearly three years: a living wage with benefits for all Harvard workers. We need to ensure that our student representatives on the committee have strong relationships with workers and will firmly advocate a living wage. And once the committee is formed, we must continue to work as a coalition--students, workers, unions, faculty, and community--to see that its research is comprehensive, and that its recommendations reflect the consensus of our community that every worker at Harvard needs and deserves a living wage with benefits.