Students Launch Fast for Guards

Around 20 people—including students and other members of the Harvard community—protested yesterday afternoon in front of Mass. Hall, marking the kickoff of a widely publicized hunger strike aimed at convincing the University to support better working conditions for security guards.

Eleven members of the Student Labor Action Movement (SLAM) said they would fast in order to garner support for recently unionized security guards employed by subcontractor AlliedBarton, who are currently undergoing contract negotiations with the company.

SLAM member and strike participant Alyssa M. Aguilera ’08-’09 said the campaign is necessary to draw the attention of the community and the administration.

The students, who officially started their hunger strike at 1:30 p.m. yesterday, said they will refrain from eating until the University pressures AlliedBarton to meet their demands for higher wages, steady work schedules, and other benefits.

Although Harvard does not directly employ security guards, protesters said they believe the University does have the ability to influence contract negotiations.

“Because Harvard pays AlliedBarton, Harvard does have the final say in the contract,” Aguilera said. “They have the capability [to ensure] that Harvard workers receive good pay and benefits. We’re holding them responsible for that.”

Under the Wage and Benefits Parity Policy, Harvard requires outside contractors to pay service workers wages comparable to those given to unionized Harvard workers who perform similar work, according to Harvard spokesman Joe Wrinn.

But Wrinn disagreed with Aguilera’s assertion that Harvard had direct influence in the negotiations, and said that the University did not plan to pressure AlliedBarton about the negotiations.

“We certainly respect their right to protest, but the issue is between AlliedBarton and its employees,” Wrinn said, although he added that “whatever the solution is, it has to meet the wage parity policy.”

Representatives from AlliedBarton could not be reached for comment.

But protestors say they have no intention of backing down.

“We want to reflect the urgency of the issue,” said Aguilera, who is a member of The Crimson’s editorial board. “The rallies and the meetings are not urgent enough. There are people who are working full-time and still can’t afford to feed their families. We want to bring back that sense of humanity.”

Security guard Aryt Alasti said in a phone interview that he has worked seven nights a week for the past 20 years to make ends meet and looks forward to a wage increase.

“It’s not enough,” Alasti said. “As I understand it, Harvard is providing AlliedBarton with enough to provide us with a living wage. What their standards are for a living wage, I don’t know.”

The Harvard College Democrats plan to show support by holding a day-long solidarity fast today, according to Brigit M. Helgen ’08, the group’s president.

“We hope to put more pressure on the administration to give in to the demands of the security guards,” Helgen said.

“This is not just a small movement; this is campus-wide,” she said.