Hunger Striker Hospitalized; Labor Protests Gain Momentum as University Pledges Audit

Javier Castro '09, in hospital, is continuing to fast, supporters say

As students prepared to gather in the Yard Tuesday for a sixth day of a hunger strike in support of higher wages for security guards, the protesters announced that one of the strikers had been hospitalized for dangerously low sodium and electrolyte levels.

Javier Castro '09 was admitted to Mount Auburn Hospital early Tuesday morning and given intravenous saline solution to bring his sodium levels up to a minimum healthy level, according to a statement released by the Harvard Stand for Security Coalition on Tuesday afternoon.

A posting on the Stand for Security Web log Tuesday afternoon said Castro was continuing to fast. "Javier is on Day 6 of the hunger strike," the posting signed by Michael Gould-Wartofsky '07 said. "Although he has received saline through an IV, he has refused food and as of right now is continuing with the hunger strike."

The protesters are gathering in front of Mass. Hall Tuesday afternoon at 1 p.m.

On Monday, in an escalation of the protests, about 200 students demanding higher wages for security guards surrounded Mass. Hall and University Hall. Their protest came only hours after the University announced it would order an audit to ensure that the security guards' wages meet Harvard's standards.

But the University maintains that it will not intervene in the contract negotiations between the security guards' union and AlliedBarton, the subcontractor that employs Harvard's guards. Eleven students began a hunger strike Thursday in an effort to get the University to pressure AlliedBarton to meet their demands for higher wages, steady work schedules, and other benefits.

According to Harvard's Wage and Benefits Parity Policy—introduced after student protests in 2001—outside contractors like AlliedBarton must pay their employees wages similar to those received by in-house unionized employees who perform the same work.

AlliedBarton's compliance with this standard was last reviewed a year ago, according to an opinion piece by Vice President for Human Resources Marilyn Hausammann published in Monday's Crimson.

The University "recognizes the importance of assuring ourselves and the members of the Harvard community that the commitments made in the Wage and Benefit Parity Policy are being fully met. We have therefore asked for an updated audit, which we expect to be completed in the coming weeks," wrote Hausammann, who declined to comment further.

Austin S. Guest '07, a member of the Student Labor Action Movement (SLAM), said he welcomed the audit, but added that it was far from enough.

"While meager, it is the most promising response we have received thus far from a generally completely unresponsive administration," he said.

The guards receive $12.68 per hour as their starting wage, according to figures released by the Stand for Security Coalition, a group advocating for the guards. The Service Employees International Union 615, the union that represents the guards, is asking for a minimum starting wage of $15 per hour, according to those same figures.

Stand For Security Coalition members say security guards make about two dollars less per hour than custodians and dining hall workers.

Harvard spokesman Joe Wrinn declined to comment on the specifics of the negotiations or on the salary figures presented by the coalition. Representatives from AlliedBarton could not be reached for comment.

"What's outrageous? Harvard's wages!" the protestors chanted, as they joined arms, clapped, and banged on empty water jugs. "Hey Harvard, you've got cash! Why do you pay your workers trash?"

Guest accused Harvard of using the parity policy as a ploy to deflect attention from its low wages, adding that the wages are too low even if they don't violate the parity policy.

Jamila R. Martin '07, who said she has not eaten since Thursday, said police did not let protestors into Mass. Hall to speak with administrators.

"The policeman said no one was there," she said. "Then they the locked the doors to University Hall."

Martin added that SLAM did not intend to occupy University buildings, but said she thought students would resent the administration's refusal to take part in the discussion.

"Your president didn't want to talk to you," she said, speaking through a megaphone. "They don't want to see you, they don't want to hear what you want to say."

Nonetheless, students participating in the hunger strike said they felt upbeat.

"I feel great," said Benjamin Landau-Beispiel '10. "We're going to make up our own mind about how long to go, but I think we're going to go as long as it takes."

Misty McGowan, a security guard in Gund Hall, said her salary is difficult to live on.

"It's hard around here, it's almost impossible and I don't even have small kids at home," she said. "It's ridiculous that they pay so little—look at the cost of living around here."

--Staff writer David K. Hausman can be reached at dhausman@fas.harvard.edu.

--Check thecrimson.com throughout the day for updates.

FOR MORE INFO:
Students Launch Fast for Guards (May 4, 2007): Around 20 people—including students and other members of the Harvard community—protest 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.

Students Fast for Guards (April 27, 2007): Around 75 student activists begin a day-long fast in an attempt to sway the contract negotiations.  The day was marked with a protest in front of Massachusetts Hall in which students attempted to hand deliver a letter to Interim President Derek C. Bok.

SLAM To Fast for Security Guards (April 24, 2007): SLAM announces that its members will begin a fast—which could escalate into a hunger strike of “indefinite lengths and proportions”—in an attempt to influence the negotiations of Harvard’s security guards with their employer AlliedBarton.

For Guards, A Union in Sight (Nov. 16, 2006): AlliedBarton and the Service Employees International Union reach an agreement permitting the guards to organize for the first time since the University outsourced their jobs two years prior, a change that signaled a hard-fought victory for the guards and student activists.