Dining Hall Workers Finalize New Wages

Fourteen months and three negotiation phases after the Progressive Student Labor Movement (PSLM) occupation of Mass. Hall, workers in Harvard University Dining Services (HUDS) finalized a new wage agreement last month.

The new contract collapsed a two-tiered system of wages into a single system, and raised wages for all but one class of workers—those who have worked for less than one year above the level of the living wage established by the city of Cambridge.

“I thought it was a good reflection of the fight that was waged,” said Ed Childs, Adams House cook and chief shop steward for Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees Local 26, which represents HUDS workers.

Under the previous wage agreement, HUDS workers were paid according to two separate pay scales. Workers in “cash ops” locations like Loker Commons and the Greenhouse were paid less than workers in residential dining halls.

“Our main goal was to bring those [cash ops wages] up,” Childs said.

The new wage rates for cash ops employees range from a minimum of $10.85 to $12.07 per hour effective June 20 of this year, up from the current $9 wage. Wages increase from $12.25 to $13.47 in the final year of the contract, depending on job classification and length of service.

Overall, wages for cash ops employees cumulatively increase from 22 percent to 36 percent over the three-year life of the contract.

After PSLM occupied Mass. Hall last year, the University agreed to establish the Harvard Committee on Employment and Contracting Policies (HCECP), headed by Professor of Economics Lawrence F. Katz, and including 11 faculty members, three unionized Harvard employees, two administrators and four students. HCECP recommended that Harvard’s lowest-paid employees be paid $10.83 to $11.30 per hour.

After University President Lawrence H. Summers’ acceptance of HCECP’s recommendations, the contract for HUDS workers was reopened and the final agreement was reached last month.

“People have struggled and won something,” Childs said of the long process toward the current agreement.

But the union and PSLM regret that that one spot in the wage agreement remains below the city-determined living wage. In the first year of the contract, kitchen utility workers who have been employed at HUDS for less than one year will receive $10.85 per hour, which is within the range the HCECP recommended but below the Cambridge living wage of $11.11 per hour.

“We still have hundreds of people on campus who are still going to be below the Cambridge living wage,” said Benjamin L. McKean ’02, a former member of both HCECP and PSLM.

“That suggests that Harvard’s being quite intransigent in its position that people are going to be paid as little as they can get away with,” McKean said. “The attitude of management hasn’t changed.”

But Childs said that Harvard workers, as well as students and faculty, made the HUDS workers’ union “much stronger than it has been in the past.” A coalition with the union that represents Harvard’s custodians was mutually empowering for the unions, creating what Childs called a “piggyback effect.”

With the first month of the new contract coming to a close this week, Childs said he has seen the positive effects of the wage increases.

“People who feel they have a brighter future will work better, have better work habits and come in more often,” he said.

Staff writer Stephanie M. Skier can be reached at skier@fas.harvard.edu.