The Undergraduate Council (UC) vote in support of custodial workers Sunday night has sparked debate over the appropriateness of the action and the adequacy of the council’s communication with the student body.
The bill, which was voted on ahead of yesterday’s expiration of the janitors’ contract with the University, pledged UC support for efforts to improve the lives of workers at Harvard. Last night, the union and the University reached a tentative deal that will go before the union membership for ratification tomorrow (Please see story above).
Within hours of the council’s 25-7 vote, the Harvard Republican Club (HRC) issued an official statement criticizing the bill.
"This vote makes us question the value of the UC," the statement said.
Elaborating on the statement, HRC spokesperson Joshua M. Reilly ’08 said yesterday that the bill doesn’t fall within the scope of work the council should be conducting.
"While the UC has a lot of potential to do good, we feel that their proper role is not to embrace activist ideas on politically-charged issues like these," Reilly said.
The HRC further criticized the council for not adequately consulting student desires.
"The UC wants to serve as a ‘campus-wide’ forum for student ideas and opinions," the Republican’s statement said. "But, the UC made no effort to find out what students actually think about the issue before it voted for the resolution, and campus opinion is clearly split."
The HRC tied the bill’s flaws to what it called a similar failure to poll students that forced the council to cancel this month’s planned Wyclef Jean concert.
A UC representative who is also a member of HRC—and whose council campaign was endorsed by the club—defended the bill, however.
Ali A. Zaidi ’08 said that the final bill extended across political lines. "As it is now, it’s something that Republicans, Democrats and most Harvard students can come to an agreement on."
The custodial workers’ cause has gained attention on campus this year through the activities of the Student Labor Action Movement (SLAM), which argues Harvard should pay its workers a "Living Wage."
Zaidi introduced a successful amendment to the bill prior to passage which he said distanced the UC from the activist group and its demands. His amendment stripped language from the bill referencing "a decent standard of living."
"It was an obvious allusion to the living wage campaign," Zaidi said. "We didn’t want to be affiliated with the SLAM movement."
In its final text, the bill affirms that Harvard should pay its workers a wage that corresponds with those of other universities in the area.
Zaidi and others from the council also defended the UC’s efforts to consult the student body regarding the issue.
Zaidi said that between the time when the bill was brought to council’s Student Affairs Committee on Monday, Nov. 7 and the vote on Sunday, UC members made an effort to talk to students and gather feedback.
"All members were instructed to go out, talk to constituents and bring opinions into the UC meeting," Zaidi said.
According to Zaidi, the Student Affairs Committee made no recommendation on the bill because of the need to consult with students before the vote at the general meeting.
SUPPORTING THE BILL
Though the bill has sparked criticism from HRC, it has also garnered positive feedback from some on campus.
The Harvard College Democrats were quick to support the bill.
"We’re absolutely 120 percent behind the workers on this and commend the UC for getting behind this resolution," said Brittani S. Head ’06, the group’s communications director.
Capp said he has received support from other student groups, including the Students Taking On Poverty campaign, in addition to a number of personal e-mails praising the bill.
"Of all the bills, this one probably was discussed with constituents the most," said Capp. "I hope it does lead to more discussion. That’s the whole goal of the UC."
"Harvard is very powerful and I think its important for a major constituency of Harvard, mainly the students, to come out in support for the members of our community," Capp said.