Brandishing noisemakers and beating drums, the protesters marched around campus and recited testimonials regarding labor disputes through a megaphone to an enthusiastic crowd. They chanted slogans like “Labor management Harvard-style is exploitation with a smile!” and “Two can’t do the work of four, Harvard you must hire more!”
Their procession took them from the front of the Holyoke Center to Lehman Hall, Widener Library, Lamont Library and Loeb House. Along the way, they held up traffic on Mass. Ave., discussing their cause with passers-by.
The PSLM-organized protest—one of its largest actions in recent memory—drew members from three of the University’s largest unions: the Harvard Union of Clerical and Technical Workers (HUCTW), Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 254 and Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees International Union (HERE) Local 26.
The protesters accused Harvard of failing to live up to its promises following the conclusion of PSLM’s occupation of Mass. Hall two years ago. At the march’s various stopping points, workers approached the megaphone to plead their cases.
The subcontracting of work to non-union members, worker harassment, discrimination, layoffs and lack of full-time jobs were the most prominent issues presented by the protesters.
PSLM member Daniel B. Weissman ’05 said the march was not held in response to any one major University action but rather was a reaction to a number of smaller labor issues.
“These things just pile up one after another,” he said. “At some point, you have to say enough is enough.”
Marilyn D. Touborg, director of communications for Harvard’s Office of Human Resources, declined to comment on specific grievances, saying that the University preferred not to resolve labor issues publicly.
But Professor of Economics Lawrence F. Katz, who chaired the Harvard Committee on Employment and Contracting Policy convened following the Mass. Hall sit-in, said the University has made substantial progress in relations with custodians, dining hall workers and security workers—groups his committee covered.
“In terms of wages, benefits and contracting, there have been large improvements in the last year,” he said. “There have been very large [wage] increases, much larger than any national trend.”
But Aaron Bartley, a union organizer for SEIU Local 254, said the University has not followed through on its promise to create more full-time custodial jobs.
“Harvard has broken a clear promise and contractual obligation,” he said.
Touborg said the University is in compliance with its contract and is trying to create more full-time positions.
“The University remains committed to converting part-time positions to full-time positions on an attrition basis in accordance with the terms of the collective bargaining agreement,” she wrote in an e-mail. “Harvard will strive to achieve that goal during the life of that contract.”
Multiple speakers accused the University of being greedy—saying it is sitting on a “pot of gold”—and alleged it has an anti-union agenda. HUCTW representative Geoff Carens mentioned an alleged human resources planning document that he said encourages harassment of employees with the goal of eliminating their jobs.