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On Labor Day, Union Workers March on Cambridge Common

Students join to show support during Harvard contract negotiations

Labor Day Workers' Union Rally
Keren E. Rohe

Students, workers, and Cambridge residents march through Harvard Yard, causing tourists to stop, stare, and even join the crowd.

Over 800 University workers and students marched on Cambridge Common Monday to show support for unionized dining hall workers, custodians, and janitors during their contract negotiations with Harvard, which are ongoing.

Giant puppets bumped into onlooking Harvard students as the procession, organized by Service Employees International Union, passed through Harvard Yard.

The march was attended by workers from three Harvard unions—the Harvard Union of Clerical and Technical Workers, UNITE HERE!, and SEIU—representing workers from across the University. More than 30 students joined the Labor Day demonstration.Marchers carried signs with slogans like “More Time With Our Families” and “Harvard—Keeping us all from a new prosperity,” and chanted together lines like “Si se puede! (Yes we can!)” and “Harvard, escucha—estamos en la lucha (Harvard, listen—we are in the fight!).

Will P. Whitham ’14, a member of the Student Labor Action Movement and one of the leaders of the student contingent present at the event, said that the march was intended to show support for the workers during their negotiations.

“This fall is really just a critical time for workers,” Whitham said. “It’s a really critical time for students and workers to come together to advocate for better working positions and really sustainable jobs.”

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Labor Day Union Rally

Labor Day Union Rally

The demand for sustainable jobs—including 40 hour workweeks and yearlong jobs, according to SLAM members—was one of the major focuses for leaders at the rally.

“There needs to be an end of workers cobbling together part-time jobs,” said Nancy B. Kohn, a publicist for SEIU. “We are fighting for a better life, for jobs with dignity.”

UNITE HERE! Local 26 President Brian Lang seconded Kohn’s call for sustainable jobs. “Most Harvard dining hall workers get laid off during the summer for three months, and they can’t collect unemployment,” he said. “That is an issue that needs to be addressed.”

Lang also said that one of the primary purposes of the demonstration was to show solidarity between SEIU and UNITE HERE! in the face of their contract negotiations. “This rally is so that Harvard sees it’s not just security guards, it’s not just janitors. It’s security guards, and janitors, and dining hall workers together,” he said. “We’ve pledged that we’re in this until there’s justice for every one of us.”

The rally hosted a number of speakers, including Lieutenant Governor Timothy P. Murray, who emphasized the importance of workers having the opportunity to improve their lives.

“People who work hard every single day deserve a fair wage,” he said.

SEIU employee Nancy Diaz, who attended the rally, said that she came to demand sustainable jobs for her and her colleagues. “I don’t get to share a lot of time with my kids,” she said. “And a lot of my friends have to work to jobs. We need to support each other so we can win a better contract.”

—Staff writer Mercer R. Cook can be reached at mcook@college.harvard.edu.

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