Students, Staff Protest Potential Layoffs

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Meredith H. Keffer

Harvard students, workers, and community members alike rally outside the Holyoke Center yesterday to show support for Harvard workers in the face of lay-offs due to the economic crisis.

Over 150 workers, union activists, students, and faculty members gathered outside the Holyoke center yesterday to protest potential layoffs due to University budget cuts.

The two rallies—held at 12:30 p.m. and 4:00 p.m.—were comprised by members of the Harvard Union of Clerical and Technical Workers, the Services Employees International Union, the Student Labor Action Movement, and the Cambridge political group Socialist Alternative.

Carrying signs reading, “Layoffs are not the new Crimson,” “Harvard is more than just students,” and “Solidarity is Hot,” protestors picketed outside of the offices of Harvard’s Labor and Employee Relations Department.

“The problem is that I have worked many years here, since 1993. I want my kids to have enough money to go to college. I’m not an American, but they are. They have the American dream,” said custodial worker Juan Miguel Iscayau, in an interview conducted in Spanish.

The second rally—held later in the evening to accommodate custodial staff and student schedules—ended with a march around the Holyoke Center and into Harvard Yard, where protestors gathered outside University President Drew G. Faust’s office in Massachusetts Hall.

“As students at Harvard, we are very privileged,” said Alyssa M. Aguilera ’08-’09. “We [students] are ready to sacrifice if Harvard is ready to sacrifice too.”

University-wide budget cuts, due to a predicted drop-off in endowment value, have prompted the creation of early retirement packages, and 1600 workers are currently eligible. Administrators estimate a 30 percent fall in endowment value by the end of the fiscal year.

HUCTW Director Bill Jaeger, who did not attend the rally, said that there have been no layoffs or guarantee of layoffs thus far for the 4,800 members of HUCTW.

“My life depends on my job at the law school,” said Ashley R. Pollock, a faculty assistant at the Law School. “I’ve been told that I could be on the chopping block. It’s difficult not knowing if I’m going to be employed in a few months.”

Leading the crowd in chants of “they say lay off we say back off” and “hey Harvard, you’ve got cash, why do you treat your workers like trash,” library worker and HUCTW member Geoff Carens said he thought the event was a success.

“This is just the beginning—we will give Harvard a big headache over this,” he said. “We believe in no layoffs for Harvard workers. If cuts need to happen, they should be at the top.”

Despite the diversity of interests represented at the rally, Director of SEIU Local 615 Daniel Brasil Becker said he believed their goal was unified.

“We are fighting for justice. We are making history. We can only rise together,” said Becker, who is not Harvard-affiliated.

Students from the College, Medical School, and the Law School turned out in support for the workers.

“A lot of us know the staff, and they sought out our support,” said Medical School student Benjamin J. Oldfield. “As students we have the power to meet with administrators and impact change.”

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