With a potential strike looming, University President Drew G. Faust said in an interview Tuesday that she is “very proud” of the health benefits package that hundreds of Harvard’s dining services workers have protested.
Earlier this month, Harvard University Dining Services workers voted 97 percent in favor of striking after a months-long labor negotiations stalemate with the University, though HUDS has not yet started a strike. In negotiations, the HUDS employees are calling for higher wages and different health benefits. The two parties did not reach an agreement at the latest round of meetings on Tuesday and will meet again on Friday.
“We care a lot about the working conditions of our employees, and want to come to a fair resolution of their concerns,” Faust said. “We’ve been very proud over the years of the way we have interacted with employees on this campus and the kinds of commitments we’ve made in a variety of realms: wages, benefits, and so on, to be a really first in class employer.”
“I hope that our negotiations with the union can lead to a positive outcome for everyone,” she added.
Local 26, the union that serves the HUDS employees, has so far rejected Harvard’s proposed health care package, including the health benefit plan Harvard provides to the University’s largest union, the Harvard Union of Clerical and Technical Workers. Faust characterized these existing health benefits as “kind of exceptional.”
“We are actually very proud of our health benefits, which are for everyone at Harvard. We include post-retirees, which is very rare,” Faust said, pointing to existing health plans at other peer employers. “One of the things we’re also very proud about at Harvard is we give full time healthcare benefits to people who do not work full time, and this is not just dining hall workers. That’s kind of exceptional.”
According to University spokesperson Tania deLuzuriaga, Harvard dining services workers earn an average of $21.89 per hour, a “highly competitive” wage. The HUDS workers are calling for a $35,000 minimum salary for all workers, a 22 percent wage increase over the next five years, and different health benefits.
“The Harvard Administration has failed to address employees’ concerns regarding affordable healthcare and a sufficient yearly income,” read a Student Labor Action Movement petition circulated in support of HUDS. “HUDS workers fear that they won’t be able to see a doctor when they need one, and workers with families or chronic health concerns will struggle to make ends meet.”
Should negotiations fail, the University has a number of potential options including providing undergraduates with "rebates" for local restaurants similar to how Yale responded to a food services worker strike in 2003.
“We are working on a variety of contingency plans,” Faust said.
—Staff writer Andrew M. Duehren can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @aduehren.
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