VPs Agree To Meet with Strikers

Meeting comes on ninth day of strike; guards reject new salary offer

As 10 students enter their ninth day of hunger striking for higher wages for Harvard’s security guards, high-level University officials have agreed to a meeting with three of the students this morning to discuss the issue.

The meeting is a “continuation of a conversation,” according to Harvard University Director of Labor and Relations Bill Murphy.

But coalition members, including those participating in the hunger strike to pressure the University to intervene in the negotiations between AlliedBarton, and the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) 615, have repeatedly criticized both Harvard and AlliedBarton for being unresponsive to their demands. Today’s meeting will include Vice President for Human Resources Marilyn Hausammann, Vice President of Government, Community, and Public Affairs Alan J. Stone, Murphy, a faculty member, and three students.

Representatives from SEIU 615, the union representing many of the guards, also rejected AlliedBarton’s offer of a 32-cent raise during negotiations yesterday.

And as a second hunger striker was hospitalized, student protesters threatened an “escalation in tactics” if Harvard did not intervene in the negotiations.

CONTINUING THE CONVERSATION

The University has maintained it will not involve itself in the negotiations, but agreed Tuesday to honor the students’ request for a meeting to present their grievances. A second meeting between officials and protesting students was to take place this morning.

On Wednesday, six students, five who are participating in the hunger strike, met with Murphy.

The meeting has resulted in an offer from the University to “issue a statement reaffirming its commitment to the Katz Committee” and allowing the students to weigh in with their opinions, Guest said.

The Katz Committee, formed in 2001, recommended that the University establish a Wage and Benefits Parity Policy requiring that outside contractors must pay their employees wages similar to those received by in-house unionized employees who perform the same work.

In-house security guards currently make $12.87, which is $0.19 more than the $12.67 the AlliedBarton guards make, according to Stand for Security Coalition figures.

The policy was adopted in 2002.

AlliedBarton did not return repeated calls yesterday afternoon.

NEGOTIATIONS

During negotiations yesterday, AlliedBarton extended an offer, which the Union deemed unsatisfactory, according to Lauren L. Jacobs, the director of organizing at SEIU 615.

Officials did not release the details of the offer. But Austin S. Guest ’07, a spokesman for the group of students leading the campaign for higher wages, the Stand for Security Coalition, said that the security guards were offered $13 per hour, a 32-cent raise which fellow hunger striker J. Claire Provost ’07 called “completely insulting.”

The starting wage for AlliedBarton officers is currently $12.68, according to figures released by the Stand for Security Coalition. The SEIU is asking for a minimum starting wage of $15 per hour.

Students for Security also confirmed that they disrupted negotiations between AlliedBarton and SIEU last week Wednesday, refusing to leave and causing the meeting to end early.

A POSSIBLE ‘ESCALATION IN TACTICS’

Students said they are willing to take more drastic measures to effect their desired change.

“Within the following week, the Harvard administration should expect an escalation of tactics since we are convinced that the tactics we are currently using are inadequate to provoke a satisfactory response from the university,” Guest said.

On Wednesday afternoon, a second undergraduate participating in the strike was hospitalized for dangerously low sodium levels. Matthew A. Opitz ’10 was admitted to Mount Auburn Hospital and placed on intravenous saline solution. He was released at 5:30 p.m. and is continuing with the hunger strike, according to a statement released by the Stand for Security Coalition.

At the rally yesterday, Benjamin Landau-Biespiel ’10 said that hunger strikers were being threatened with the prospect of losing their College housing if they did not go to University Health Services every day to receive checkups.

But Director of Communications for the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Robert Mitchell, after speaking with College administrators, said, “There is no plan at this point to deny students housing who are involved in this hunger strike.”

Provost said to a crowd of over 100 that she was not intimidated by what she said were the school’s threats to call her parents and that her parents joined her in fasting on Wednesday.

Boston City Councillor Charles H. “Chuck” Turner ’62 attended the rally yesterday and read out loud a letter of support signed by himself and seven other elected city officials, which criticized the University’s failure to educate its students about “moral intelligence.”

—Brenda C. Maldonado can be reached at bmaldon@fas.harvard.edu.