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Merits of Living Wage Campaign Bring Issue to Forefront

Harvard ponders action in wake of recent activism

Earlier this month, student protestors for three campus causes stood on the steps of Memorial Church and called for "Justice at Harvard."

Two of those groups, the Coalition Against Sexual Violence and the anti-sweatshop Progressive Student Labor Movement, got what they wanted the very same day, as the University took steps to address their concerns.

Only the Living Wage Campaign, with its calls for $10 per hour wages for all Harvard employees, seemed left out in the cold. And, it seemed, there was good reason for this neglect--no other university in the Boston area has even a similar policy.

But earlier this week, President Neil L. Rudenstine moved for the first time on this issue, announcing that a faculty committee would begin to study wage concerns. A faculty committee is given relatively more leeway to recommend policy change than other administrative channels would have.

NEWS ANALYSIS

But what could have motivated the University to move beyond words to action?

Perhaps it was because there is at least some merit behind protestors' claims. Over a thousand of Harvard's employees do make less than $10 per hour.

And, since one expert says an adult with a child needs over $15 per hour to live in the Boston area, concerns about a living wage could be more than just a trumped-up cause for student protestors.

Employment Snapshot

One of the pieces of evidence before the faculty committee is a "snapshot" of Harvard's employees for the week of Feb. 20.

And, while that snapshot is by no means a complete picture of Harvard's employees, it quantifies the nebulous issues of who makes what that have been at issue since the campaign's first march last month.

According to the snapshot, out of a total of 13, 113 "regular employees"--wage-earners who work more than 17.5 hours per week--only 358 earn less than $10 per hour.

But out of 1,361 "casual employees," 669 or 49 percent made less than the $10 cutoff. Casual workers are officially designated as those who work less than three months at full time or less than 17.5 hours per week. They typically receive lower wages and no benefits.

These employment figures are important because, though they show that the vast majority of employees make more than the campaign's living wage, there are over a thousand who make less.

And these numbers do not include subcontracted workers, of whom the campaign estimates there are 600 to 700 at any given time who make less than $10 per hour.

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