A resolution to endorse a "no" vote in next Friday's grape referendum--and continue Harvard Dining Services' boycott of grapes--failed at last night's Undergraduate Council meeting.
"We shouldn't be telling Harvard students how to vote," said Treasurer Beth A. Stewart '00, who opposed the measure. "We are representatives--they should be telling how to vote."
The bill's sponsor, Todd E. Plants '01, and three other student activists urged the Council to endorse the continuation of the boycott to protest bad working conditions for field laborers.
"Never before have I seen so many leaders voting to say so little," Plants said.
According to a fact sheet from the AFL-CIO and the United Farm Workers, grape workers are often exposed to carcinogenic pesticides, forced to work without access to toilets or drinking water and paid less than minimum wage.
The bill's backers encouraged the Council to endorse the boycott because of the University's financial clout.
"People listen to how Harvard spends its money because Harvard had a lot of money to spend," said Alex S. Myers '00.
A third faction of council members offered a compromise: an amendment advocating an "informed vote" in the referendum. But several council members said the amendment was toothless, and it failed.
"We have to stop proposing amendments like this that replace a bed bill with fluff," said Eric M. Nelson '99, who is also a Crimson editor.
At that point, Council president Lamelle D. Rawlins '99, supporter of the bill, yielded the gavel to address the council.
"Grapes in the dining halls concerns an institution, not an individual," said Rawlins, berating the Council for refusing to take a stand on the issue.
Adam R. Kovacevich '99 is chair of the Grape Coalition, a group of Council members and concerned students who advocate ending the Harvard Dining Services boycott. He accused the activists of being misinformed.
"They're putting forth the notion that California's grape fields are a Third World country, but in fact they are the best regulated in the country," he said.
Kovacevich, whose family owns a grape farm near Bakersfield, Calif., claimed first-hand knowledge about working conditions.
"My dad, who's grower, is out there in the fields every bit as much as a worker--why would he spray himself with pesticides?" he asked.
Kovacevich also thanked the council for not endorsing the resolution--which he said was not under its purview.
"Students need to come to their own conclusions and make their own decisions," Kovacevich said.
In other council business, eight resolutions passed allowing task forces to research issues of concern to the student body, including gender identity, Faculty diversity and the move-in policy.