The Cambridge City Council unanimously voiced its support for Harvard University Dining Services workers’ potential movement to strike and delivered biting criticism of the Harvard administration in a vote Monday evening.
In a resolution sponsored by Mayor E. Denise Simmons, Vice Mayor Marc C. McGovern and Councillor Timothy J. Toomey, Jr., the Council pledged to join the picket lines on Harvard’s campus in the event that HUDS does, in fact, strike. The resolution’s passage sparked loud cheers from the public gallery, a rare event at most City Council meetings.
In an overwhelming 591-18 vote, HUDS workers moved to authorize a strike if Harvard does not comply with their demands for altered health benefits and increased wages. Local 26, which has been bargaining with the University since mid-June, said it may strike if significant progress towards a settlement has not been made by the end of its next scheduled session with Harvard Tuesday; other sessions could me scheduled.
In a statement, Harvard spokesperson Tania deLuzuriaga wrote that the University “deeply values the contributions” of HUDS workers, and that Harvard is “committed to bargaining in good faith towards an agreement....”
McGovern, who attended a rally the workers held in early September, said during the council meeting that he was frustrated with Harvard’s current position on the negotiations.
“It seems like we’re in this position a lot, where there are institutions that have an abundance of resources and are asked to simply do minimal things for the people they work for,” McGovern said. “Harvard crying poor is not something that goes over well with me.”
HUDS supporters have cited the University's recent announcement that it has raised more than $7 billion in its capital campaign as an indication it has enough resources to supplement workers' salaries. But the University and analysts contend this argument, saying Harvard cannot simply pull money from the campaign.
Mayor Simmons suggested marching in front of Massachusetts Hall to gain the attention of University President Drew G. Faust, whose offices are located in that building.
“We’ll have to continue to do this and maybe we’ll have to don our red shirts and sneakers and walk a few blocks just to get Harvard’s attention,” Simmons said.
HUDS workers, undergraduates, and Medical School students attended the meeting and many spoke during the public comment portion of the meeting. Their presence continues a month-long publicity campaign by a cohort of Harvard affiliates.
Indeed, September has been punctuated by fervent cries of support from organizations across Harvard’s campuses, particularly at the Medical School. Most recently, four medical school student advocates penned an analysis denouncing the health care plan Harvard proposed to its workers at the start of the contract talks, though Harvard contends much of their analysis.
Last week, 15 groups at Harvard Law School released a statement slamming the Universtiy for its stalemate with its dining workers. The week before, more than 100 students from Harvard’s Medical and Dental schools gathered in front of Longwood’s iconic Gordon Hall to demonstrate their support of HUDS’ intent to strike.
Additionally, a petition started by the Student Labor Action Movement—a group that has supported Harvard unions in the past—has garnered more than 2,700 signatures since it was first launched two weeks ago, according to SLAM member Farris M. Peale ’18, who attended the meeting.
This is hardly the first time the Cambridge City Council has waded into labor conflicts at Harvard. Last semester, the body backed Graduate School of Arts and Sciences student efforts to form a union. The Council passed an order last week commending the National Labor Relations Board victory for GSAS unionization.
The Council also publicly supported the Local 26-led boycott of the Harvard-owned Boston-Cambridge DoubleTree Suites hotel during unionization negotiations in 2014. Those employees succeeded in their efforts and unionized with Local-26 in 2015.
—Staff writer Brandon J. Dixon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @BrandonJoDixon.
—Staff writer Joshua Florence can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @JoshuaFlorence1.