University To Meet with SLAM

School's concession follows hospitalization of hunger striker

Unnamed photo
Meghan T. Purdy

SLAM protesters march through the Yard on Monday in opposition to what they are calling unjustly low wages paid to the AlliedBarton security workers. Those participating in a hunger strike fasted for the sixth consecutive day Tuesday, as one striker was h

The University will meet today with student protesters to discuss their demand that Harvard intervene for higher wages in a dispute between outside security contractor AlliedBarton and guards hired by the firm for Harvard’s campuses. The meeting comes a week into a hunger strike involving 11 undergraduates, one of whom was hospitalized yesterday for dangerously low sodium and electrolyte levels.

The strike has been accompanied by daily demonstrations in Harvard Yard, where for the past two days over 150 protesters have gathered to surround Mass. Hall and University Hall and call for higher wages from AlliedBarton.

Shortly before Monday’s protest, the University announced it would order an outside contractor to direct an independent firm to review the security guards’ contracts and ensure they meet Harvard’s parity standards for direct and indirect hires.

“It’s exciting that the administration is responding, that we’re definitely getting through to them, but we haven’t won anything yet,” said Jamila R. Martin ’07, a hunger striker who presented a signed petition with the strikers’ demands yesterday afternoon to William Murphy, the director of labor and employee relations.

Martin was the lone protester admitted into the Holyoke Center yesterday after Harvard University Police Officers barred the doors to the dozens of marchers clamoring to enter.

“We are definitely prepared to listen to the concerns they wanted to express in person,” said Murphy.

The University has maintained that it will not intervene in the contract negotiations between the security guards’ union and AlliedBarton, the subcontractor that employs Harvard’s guards.

STRIKING OUT

Eleven students began fasting Thursday in an effort to get the University to pressure AlliedBarton to meet their demands for higher wages, steady work schedules, and other benefits.

Early yesterday morning, hunger striker Javier J. Castro ’09 was admitted to Mount Auburn Hospital 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 yesterday afternoon.

According to Lucy S. Mackinnon ’09, a spokeswoman for the strike, Castro intends to continue the fast and rejoin his comrades.

“I’m angry, I cannot believe that this administration has let a student be put in the hospital before even coming out to talk to us,” said protester Ellora A. Derenoncourt ’09. “It doesn’t make sense.”

The protesters’ demands center around the claim that AlliedBarton guards do not earn wages comparable to other workers at Harvard or their peers at other institutions.

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 information provided by the Harvard Stand for Security Coalition, the minimum salary for security guards under the AlliedBarton contract is $12.68 per hour, compared to the $12.87 earned by guards hired directly by Harvard.

The minimum salary for AlliedBarton guards is almost two dollars less than that of University dining hall workers and almost six dollars less than that of guards at MIT.

Protest leaders professed disappointment that they would not be meeting with a more highly placed Harvard official and that the administration would only meet with five representatives.

The meeting will include Murphy and representatives of the Student Labor Action Movement (SLAM), as well as another member of the Labor Relations office, according to Murphy.

“Bill Murphy doesn’t actually have the power to make this decision,” said Martin. “So his meeting with us is a nice concession on part of administration, but at the end of the day, it’s the president or the Corporation that has the final say.”

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.

Under the policy, the total wage benefit package is the basis of comparison, said Harvard spokesman Joe Wrinn. Total compensation includes hourly wage, paid time off, and employee benefits, like healthcare, pension, and release time for literacy classes.

“Always look at the total package,” he said. “That is the basis for wage parity.”

AlliedBarton’s compliance with the total compensation standard was last reviewed a year ago, Murphy said. The company passed at that time, he said, as it has for every audit since they were first contracted by Harvard.

Murphy said the next regularly scheduled audit was slotted for July 2007, but Vice President for Human Resources Marilyn Hausammann announced that the University had asked for an earlier audit in an opinion piece published in Monday’s Crimson. Hausammann declined to comment further.

Martin said she wasn’t sure whether parity in total compensation would satisfy the demands of the security guard.

“I don’t know if people would take that trade-off, but I don’t think so,” she said. “They did a survey of guards here and some overwhelming majority said wages were the most important thing.”

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 DISGUSTING? UNION BUSTING!’

Both yesterday and Monday, over 150 protesters—mostly students—formed a circle in the Yard before marching to Mass. Hall to speak with administrators, chanting, “What’s outrageous? Harvard’s wages!” and “Hey Harvard, you’ve got cash! Why do you pay your workers trash?”

A Harvard University Police officer barred the entrance, prompting angry cries from some of the students.

Martin, who said she has not eaten since Thursday, said police also did not let protestors into Mass. Hall on Monday 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.”

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

—Staff writer Clifford M. Marks can be reached at cmarks@fas.harvard.edu.

—Staff writer Stephanie S. Garlow can be reached at sgarlow@fas.harvard.edu.

CORRECTION: Due to an editing error, a photo caption accompanying the May 9 news article "University To Meet with SLAM" gave the wrong date for the pictured protest. It occurred on Monday, not Tuesday.

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.