SLAM Talks Living Wage

Georgetown students share tips on union activism with Harvard's SLAM

Harvard and Georgetown students convened last night to discuss future union empowerment and the achievement of a living wage on campus at a meeting organized by the Student Labor Action Movement (SLAM).

The meeting is one of four SLAM events this week, including a Thursday roundtable on workers’ rights.

After a three year campaign and nine-day hunger strike, Georgetown students won a living wage for workers last spring—successfully demanding full-time contract workers be paid a minimum of $13 an hour by fiscal year 2006.

Diane Foglizzo, a recent Georgetown graduate and participant in the hunger strike, said she hoped the Georgetown struggle would inspire similar activism on Harvard’s campus.

“So much of the campaign was inspired by the Harvard sit-in,” said Foglizzo. “We want to travel the country, talk to students, and talk about making real change.”

The first issue on the current SLAM agenda is the achievement of a living wage for Harvard’s janitors, said to SLAM member Michael A. Gould-Wartofsky ’07, who is also a Crimson editor.

“Right now we’re counting down to justice on Nov. 15, the day the janitors’ contract is being negotiated,” said Gould-Wartofsky. “SLAM has workers’ backs this fall. They’re demanding jobs that guarantee dignity and respect and that means a living wage, fair benefits, and full-time work.”

Harvard janitors’ demands include a wage of $20 per hour with benefits, increased opportunities for full-time work, and an end to job outsourcing.

SLAM members called on the student body to get more involved in labor activism in the coming months, as both the current janitor and dining hall worker contracts expire.

“We want students to come out to every single event in larger numbers to show both the workers and the administration that the workers are not alone,” said Shuo “Jim” Huang ’09.

“There are a lot of people who are sympathetic to the cause but don’t know the intricacies of labor organizing,” Alyssa M. Aguilera ’08 said. “We wanted to create a week of teach-ins to get people involved in what’s going on and turn sympathy into action.”

At last night’s meeting, SLAM members discussed the adoption of a card check neutrality system. This system would guarantee that the University will recognize any union in which over 50 percent of the University workers submit union endorsement cards.

As an alternative to secret balloting, card check neutrality may allow greater anonymity because workers do not vote for unions in public forums but rather submit union endorsement cards as a coalition, explained Jack Mahoney, a Georgetown student labor activist, at the meeting.

“Secret ballot box elections are commonly corrupt,” said Mahoney. “But by far card check is the most simple and democratic process.”

—Staff writer Candice N. Plotkin can be reached at cplotkin@fas.harvard.edu.