Dining hall workers and Harvard students gathered in Cambridge’s First Parish Church yesterday for a member meeting of the workers’ union before spilling into the streets of Harvard Square and coming to a shouting protest in front of the Holyoke Center.
The meeting, organized by the Boston area hospitality union Unite Here Local 26, focused on procuring “justice and respect” for dining hall workers in the coming contract negotiations with the University.
Speakers at the event called for stronger contractual wording against favoritism and harassment, more comprehensive health care coverage, and higher wages.
A survey of union workers revealed these aspects to be the things union members were most unhappy about at work. Chants of “Respect! Justice!” were interspersed throughout.
Leaders of the union feel that their demands are more than reasonable.
“We want the University to treat us like we are human beings,” said Vice President and chief negotiator for Local 26 Brian Lang. “D-hall workers are mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, leaders in their communities.”
Speakers at the event spoke passionately about their negotiation goals.
One speaker, who has worked in Harvard dining halls for 32 years, expressed the frustration of facing favoritism in the workplace, spurring a wave of assenting murmurs from the crowd.
“You ask yourself, ‘Why am I being overlooked?’” he said to the audience, later adding that “the clause that prevents favoritism [in our contracts] is unclear.”
Another speaker addressed wages, which several said have decreased during the last year.
And speakers were critical of Harvard’s approach to negotiating health care policy with the dining hall workers.
“All they care about is their wealth—they do not care about our health,” one speaker shouted into the microphone.
Unite Here would not confirm the names of speakers to protect their relationships with the University.
Students also played an important role in the event.
Student Labor Action Movement organizer Remeike J.B. Forbes ’11 told the crowded pews of workers, “We are behind you 100 percent.”