SLAM Worker Week Ends

Students demand $20-an-hour ‘living wage,’ more full-time jobs for workers

The culminating event of the Student Labor Action Movement’s (SLAM) “A Week for Workers” drew more than 75 students, employees, and community members to a teach-in on workers’ unionization rights last night.

The teach-in, which is part of the American Rights at Work (ARW) national tour, brought activists from Guatemala, Quebec, and Mexico together with American labor organizers and Harvard workers to ask for an improvement in labor compensation at the University.

“The [compensation] situation at Harvard is disturbing,” said Lauren Jacobs, organizing director of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 615, the janitors’ union at Harvard. “Many janitors have to work two or three jobs just to make ends meet,” she said.

SEIU co-sponsored yesterday’s event along with SLAM and ARW.

Robert Woods Bliss Professor of Latin American History and Economics John Womack, Jr., told the audience that corporations will not respect workers’ rights “unless you make them hurt” by focusing public scrutiny on their labor policies.

Yesterday’s event highlighted SLAM’s demands for a $20-an-hour living wage for Harvard janitors, whose contract expires Nov. 15.

Harvard’s starting wage for janitors, all of whom are SEIU members, is currently $13.50 an hour.

William J. Murphy, Harvard’s director of labor and employee relations, declined to comment last week on janitors’ wages because negotiations are still ongoing.

SLAM is also demanding that Harvard increase the portion of full-time jobs to 60 percent of all positions, a commitment made to Harvard janitors in the wake of the 2001 Progressive Students’ Labor Movement (PSLM) sit-in.

Harvard administrators have said that they are working toward making 60 percent of janitorial jobs full-time through job attrition.

PSLM, the organization that is now SLAM, took over then-President Neil L. Rudenstine’s office in Mass. Hall to raise wages on campus and to protest the outsourcing of Harvard jobs to private contractors.

SLAM founder Michael A. Gould-Wartofsky ’07 said yesterday that the group is currently trying to help ununionized workers at Harvard lobby their firms for representation.

“A lot of the outsourcing that has been happening has been to bust unions,” Gould-Wartofsky said. “That’s especially what we’re focusing on with the security guards.”

The last of Harvard’s in-house security guard positions were outsourced to a private firm, Allied-Barton Security, last fall, resulting in the folding of their former union. Allied-Barton Security guards are not unionized.

Harvard’s Deputy Director of Labor Relations James LaBua said last week that the unionization of Harvard’s security guards must be addressed through Allied-Barton, not through the University.

“Whether it’s the SEIU or some other union that wants to organize them, they certainly have the right to do that,” LaBua said last week.

SLAM members said that this week’s events, which have included a meet-and-greet with campus janitors on Monday and a discussion of the living wage on Tuesday, have succeeded in raising awareness of workers’ rights on campus.

“Labor issues and union organizing is something that a lot of Harvard students are not familiar with,” said Alyssa M. Aguilera ‘08, a SLAM member. “[There have been] so many new faces, so many new people in the meetings.”

Aguilera said one hundred people signed a petition yesterday outlining SLAM’s demands, including an end to outsourcing in-house Harvard jobs. Aguilera said SLAM will deliver the petition to administrators next Friday.

—Staff writer May Habib can be reached at habib@fas.harvard.edu.