Union representatives and members of the Harvard community petitioned the City Council yesterday in response to the University’s low-wage worker cuts.
The resolution that came before the Council proposed an economic stimulus package in which the City of Cambridge would exempt Harvard from its payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT).
The resolution’s sponsor, Counsellor Marjorie C. Decker, said that the resolution is a symbolic method to highlight the absurdity of the layoffs.
At the last Council meeting, Decker said she thought this type of gesture would shame Harvard into halting layoffs of low-wage workers.
Alyssa M. Aguilera ’08-09, a member of the Student Labor Action Movement, spoke during the public comment portion of the meeting.
“As students who live and go to school at Harvard, we know that workers are as much a part of our community as faculty and administrators,” she said. “We hope that the Council will join students in putting pressure on Harvard to stop laying off workers and keep our community together.”
Bedardo Sola, a janitor who was recently reinstated at the University, said through his translator that he now understands what it is like to be enslaved after having taken up the workload of three workers.
Counsellor Kenneth E. Reeves ’72, the second sponsor of the resolution, motioned to vote on the resolution at a later meeting.
“[Harvard’s] behavior is not Veritas behavior, it is embarrassing and pitiful,” said Reeves. “It’s just not fair for a multi-billion dollar university to take bread out of children’s mouths. Hopefully we can see some more enlightened leadership in the future.”
Harvard’s offer of early retirement may be perceived as coercive by workers who feel pressured by the possibility of layoff, said Stephen A. Helfer, a support staff member at Harvard Law School library.
“I ask the City Council to use its influence to urge that everybody at the University take a pay cut according to his or her ability, starting with Drew Faust,” he said.
Director of Higher Education at the Service Employees International Union Wayne M. Langley suggested that Harvard follow the example set by similarly-affected universities like BU and MIT. He said these universities have acted responsibly in postponing layoffs and offering modest increases in salary to low-wage workers while cutting wages for the highest paid workers.
“The bottom line is that Harvard is a non-profit subsidized by taxpayers and we expect a higher level of responsibility from them,” Langley said. “The message they are sending to workers on the bottom of the food chain is that they are surplus and not central to the educational mission of the school.”
—Staff writer Danella H. Debel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.