Yale's current altercations between University officials and the C.I.O. are reminiscent of Harvard's long fought battle with the American Federation of Labor, The history of this fight goes back to 1936, but the real fireworks did not begin until 1939.
In their meeting-room in Cypress Hall, Central Square, early in the year 1939, Locals 112 and 186 of the American Federation of Labor met to approve a tentative contract with the University asking for a closed shop in Harvard Dining Halls and demanding wage increases up to eight dollars a week.
At first their ruling said that any Dining Hall worker, whether union or "scab," who gave up his position should be replaced by an A. F. of L. member. Although this move would have eventually led to a closed shop, it was decided that it was not vehement enough, and therefore the union asked for an immediate change to a closed shop.
Negotiations between the Union and Harvard lasted for several weeks, but on March 8 the Union announced that it had had enough, and decided to strike on the following Monday unless the University officials capitulated. Only three Union voters out of 300 opposed the move.
The situation, as far as the college was concerned, was truly serious. Joseph Stefani, leader of the union, pointed out that the effect of the walk-out would be a complete breakdown of the dining hall service at Harvard. Furthermore, A. F. of L. teamsters pledged their support, saying they would refuse to deliver food to the College.
The Union defended its move by claiming that waitresses and cooks find it hard to get a job during the summer. "We have to eat 365 days in the year," said Stefani, "and because of this Harvard employees should have a higher wage level. The University pays its officers a yearly salary whether students are here or not."
On March 13 the Union announced it would give the University "until 12 o'clock tonight" to make its decision and draw up a satisfactory contract. On the following day, the strikers reluctantly agreed to postpone their strike for 36 hours.
College Raises Wages
Finally the University conceded to make a slight wage increase, and agreed to a preferential rather than a closed shop. The furor ended with the preferential shop becoming a virtual closed shop as a large number of employees switched to the A. F. of L.
On April 29 Aldrich Durant '02, Business Manager of the University, announced that the Dining Hall rates had to be increased to $9.00 for Freshmen and $10.00 for upperclassmen. Durant blamed the wage increases for employees and other "numerous adjustments benefiting employees" as the cause for the increase.
When the new school year opened, batle was shortly resumed, but on a different front. A Massachusetts law was passed in October, 1939, limiting college waitresses, among other classifications, to an eight-hour working day instead of ten. Waitresses up to that time used to work as much as 12 hours a day. Harvard, in a quandary over how to solve the situation, thought the law could be skirted on the grounds that Harvard, being an educational institution, would not be affected by the law. True enough, the State Labor Relations Board ruled that Harvard did not come under the law's jurisdiction, and College authorities heaved a great sigh of relief.
But Harvard's gratification was short-lived.
Three months later, in January 1940, the union bitterly attacked proposals to replace ten Business School waitresses by an equal number of student waiters. Warning that the University's idea is the forerunner of a general attempt to put students in union members' jobs, Stefhani declared. "We've theratened to strike once, and will do it again." His threats were greeted with loud applause by his union audience.
The Business School dean, Wallace B. Donham '98, replied that the high Business School board rate would have become even higher if the waitresses had not been replaced. But all was sweetness and light again when Stefhani admitted on February 16 that the union would not conduct any strikes for the rest of the year.