Summers Accepts Worker Wage Report

No mandatory wage floor, but wage negotiations will re-open

University President Lawrence H. Summers announced yesterday that he will accept the significant pay hikes recommended by the high-ranking committee convened to examine workers’ wages.

The decision comes nine months after members of the Progressive Student Labor Movement (PSLM) occupied Mass. Hall for three weeks calling for a “living wage” of $10.25 per hour for all Harvard employees.

In keeping with the report released by the Harvard Committee on Employment and Contracting Policies (HCECP) last month, the University will reopen union negotiations to boost wages for the school’s 1,000 lowest-paid service employees to at least $10.83 to $11.30 per hour—but will not implement a mandatory wage floor.

A University-Wide Policy

Summers’ decision applies to each of the University’s individual schools and payment for the increase in wages will come from each of the schools’ budgets.

The committee’s report estimated that overall implementation costs would run between $2.4 and $3.7 million per year. But in an interview yesterday, Summers said that this estimate was “somewhat” low.

He said the cost would be significant, but manageable.

“Based on the issues raised by the committee these are important costs for the University and its constituents to bear,” he said.

Summers has consulted the deans of Harvard’s individual schools to discuss the burdens this decision will place on their budgets.

“I think [the deans] are pretty much settled on having to face up to these costs,”Vice President for Adminstration Sally Zeckhauser said. “I’m not sure they were happy about that.”

Deans were unavailable for comment yesterday.

What Happens Next

The University will also establish a parity wage and benefits policy by March 31, requiring contractors to pay wages and benefits at least equal to those paid to unionized Harvard employees.

In the statement released yesterday, Summers said this policy will “break new ground in defining the relationship between employees and contracted workers doing similar jobs.”

The University’s contract negotiation with Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 254, which represents custodial workers, was reopened two weeks ago and marks the first contract negotiations to take place with the suggested $10.83 minimum pay.

Polly Price, Harvard’s associate vice president for human resources said that once negotiations with SEIU are concluded, negotiations with union for guards, service workers and dining hall employees will be re-opened as called for by Summers.

Summers said all the reopened negotiations will hopefully be completed or in progress by this May.

“I think it’s doable,” Price aid of the timetable. “It’s pretty optimistic, it relies on cooperation from both sides but the SEIU negotiatons should be done pretty quickly.”

According to Summers, the recommendations will “break new ground in in defining the relationship between employees and contracted workers doing similar jobs.”

Rocio Saenz, the deputy trustee of SEIU, said she was pleased with Summers’ decision.

“I think this response is a historic statement,” Saenz said. “It shows goodwill toward improving living wages and working conditions for labor at Harvard.”

Saenz said she expects the contract negotiated by SEIU to set a precedent. Following the SEIU negotiations, the University will reopen the contracts of the service workers, dining hall employees and guards.

“We believe this is now the time for Harvard to show their commitment through this [collective bargaining] process,” Saenz said.

BF: The Campaign Responds

The University’s plans meet many of the demands made by the Progressive Student Labor Movement (PSLM) during last spring’s sit-in, including a promise to improve the quality of life for Harvard workers.

Following the report’s Dec. 19 release, PSLM members had called for Summers to move beyond the recommendations to implement the mandatory wage floor.

But PSLM members said they were pleased with Summers’ announcement yesterday.

“I think that one of the things this shows is that students and workers organizing together can get a mountain to budge,” said PSLM member Benjamin L. McKean ’02, who was also a member of the committee.

McKean did express concern about the implementation process.

According to Summers’ statement, the University plans to compile a report outlining the results of the contract negotiations this spring and will update the committee on its progress.

McKean said he hoped to see a more definite implementation process.

“The report called for a more transparent and accountable process that involved all the stake-holders, so I hope that is something that is forthcoming,” McKean said.

—Staff writer Joseph P. Flood can be reached at flood@fas.harvard.edu.