Students Rally for Workers

Protestors call for affordable healthcare and paid vacations

Unnamed photo
Thomas J. Beckford

Security guards and laboratory workers protested in front of the Holyoke Center and in Harvard Yard yesterday, which coincided with the 39th anniversary of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination.

Over 80 Harvard students, workers, and community members participated in a labor rally in front of the Holyoke Center yesterday afternoon in support of workers’ rights, highlighting the upcoming contract negotiation of Harvard’s recently unionized security guards that will be the focus of labor efforts this spring.

According to security guard Rodney Noel, workers at AlliedBarton, the company that employs Harvard security officers, currently lack affordable healthcare options and must work for two years before they receive a week of paid vacation.

Though met with cold and rain, the speakers made clear that the harsh conditions would not put a damper on their efforts.

“The fact that we are all here standing in 30-degree freezing rain is a message to Harvard,” said Allston-Brighton Neighborhood Assembly member Jake Carmen. “We may not have the money, but we have something they don’t have: heart.”

Workers from throughout Cambridge joined the demonstration, hoping that if Harvard takes steps to increase wages and prevent discrimination other employers will follow suit.

“We’re out here to show support for all security officers,” said Noel, who works at Kendall Square. “We’ll all be able to push forward if they make it.”

Harvard’s treatment of its workers came under scrutiny last fall, when four Latino workers alleged that they were being fired because of their ethnicity.

Alyssa Aguilera ’08-’09, a member of Harvard’s Student Labor Action Movement (SLAM), which organized the event with the Coalition for Respect and Equality for Workers, said she participated in the rally to help build a stronger connection between Harvard students and workers.

“I know that, as a student, I have a lot of privilege, and I want to use that privilege to lend a hand to the workers who are also a part of the Harvard community,” said Aguilera, who added that the rally was intended to coincide with the anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. as part of a nationwide student-led labor week.

After a series of addresses by community members, the group proceeded to march into Harvard Yard where they held picket signs and chanted, among other phrases, “Sí se puede,” Spanish for “Yes, it can be done.”

At around 3:15 p.m., the group reconvened in front of Widener Library, where leaders made allegations of age discrimination and referred to the controversy last fall.

FAS Director of Communications Robert Mitchell said he could not comment on the pending contract negotiations and declined to discuss some of the individual personnel issues that were raised at the rally. But he said the University has made progress with the investigation of racism in the labs.

“The University and Union representing those employees have been working constructively for the past several months to review staffing issues,” Mitchell said. “We do remain hopeful that the issues will be resolved to everyone’s satisfaction.”

J. Claire Provost ’07 said she hoped for a greater connection to form between all members of Harvard.

“Get to know the people who clean the floors while you do your problem sets,” said Provost, who is also a Crimson editor.