Veritas et Securitas

Harvard should affirm its support for security guard welfare

In the midst of the bustle of the academic term, it’s often easy to forget that Harvard’s community encompasses more than students, faculty, and administrators. The hot meals that we are served three times a day, the clean halls and bathrooms that we enjoy throughout the academic year, and the meticulously manicured lawns that we walk over in the fall and spring too easily slip below the radar.

Perhaps most easily taken for granted, however, is the basic safety that we all enjoy—the safety provided by the security guards employed by AlliedBarton Security Services (AlliedBarton), to which Harvard outsources most of its security needs.

Recently, student members of Stand For Security began a hunger strike to call attention to the plight of AlliedBarton security workers on campus, who unionized under the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) last December and are now negotiating their first contract through SEIU. While we agree with many of Stand For Security’s aims and its general spirit of promoting the welfare of Harvard’s workers, we cannot support its extreme tactic of using a hunger strike to force Harvard’s hand.

Though Harvard does not employ AlliedBarton security workers directly, and thus has no legal obligation to intervene in the negotiations currently being conducted by AlliedBarton and SEIU, we believe that it has a moral obligation, as an AlliedBarton client, to promote the welfare of those of its employees that work on campus. Harvard should make clear that, as an employer, it supports the institution of fair grievance procedures, hiring full-time, instead of part-time, workers when possible, and the payment of a higher wage—all of which are part of Stand For Security’s demands.

It’s important to note that Harvard is already a relatively generous employer. All on-campus employees are currently paid at or above the living wage as established by the City of Cambridge, and the University has a comprehensive program to support literacy and general education for its employees. Furthermore, Harvard’s Wage and Benefit Parity Policy, established in 2002, mandates that on-campus companies providing custodial, dining, or security services compensate their on-campus employees at a rate comparable to that received by corresponding University workers. Harvard should not, however, merely measure up to an “average” standard of employer conduct; it should exceed it significantly, wherever it’s financially feaible.

Stand For Security claims that AlliedBarton is using a number of devious tactics to get around Harvard’s Wage and Benefit Parity Policy and effectively negotiate a contract that is less than satisfactory. The University, on the other hand, says that independent auditors found that AlliedBarton was in compliance with the Policy last year, and it is in the process of conducting another audit. But regardless of who is right, the devil is in the details, and the AlliedBarton contract deserves Harvard’s highest scrutiny.

We also agree with Stand For Security that Harvard should make a public statement supporting their modest demands. The University should issue an explicit statement that itwill stand by its official policy—without allowing for loopholes that allow outsourced jobs to live up to the letter of Harvard’s policy but not its spirit of fairness.

That being said, we cannot support Stand For Security’s methods. A hunger strike is a wildly inappropriate way to conduct this sort of advocacy, both because it is disproportionate to the direness of the situation and unbecoming of an academic community that believes in the power of rational discourse to work out problems. A hunger strike also obscures the facts rather than clarifies them, and sets a bad precedent for future student advocacy efforts at Harvard.

The clock is ticking on both the union negotiations and the school year. We hope that Harvard will issue a clear public statement about its commitment to fairness for the AlliedBarton workers, which would reaffirm the importance of worker welfore on campus, and end Stand For Security’s rash hunger strike.