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A small group of students crashed the elegant Christmas party held yesterday at Mass. Hall, protesting directly to President Neil L. Rudenstine that the University has broken promises to improve the conditions faced by low-paid workers.
Specifically, the members of the Progressive Student Labor Movement (PSLM) who organized the living wage demonstration said Harvard has failed to implement measures that were outlined in a report issued seven months ago.
The report--released by the Ad Hoc Committee on Employment Policies after 13 months of research--recommended that the University enlarge the scope of worker benefits, including health insurance.
Upon entering the party, the protesters handed Rudenstine a large, mock report card that gave him poor grades for handling the labor issues and failed him for "commitment to a living wage for all Harvard workers."
The PSLM members then sang parodies of popular Christmas carols, portraying Rudenstine as a stingy leader untouched by the plight of his workers.
To the tune of "Jingle Bells," the chorus sang, "Slashing wages here, and cutting benefits there, when you're the boss, it's not your loss."
As they sang, Rudenstine looked on politely, eventually turning away.
In an interview later, Rudenstine said that the University has done more than the students have realized.
"I think that more fact-checking would be tremendously helpful for everyone," Rudenstine said. "They should chat with the people in charge."
Rudenstine also said it's unrealistic to expect rapid changes in the amount of benefits that workers receive.
"It has to be implemented in phases. There's only one time health benefits can change--January first," Rudenstine said.
Despite his contention that further reforms will come, the PSLM students said that Rudenstine seemed indifferent to the issues since he did not even listen to all their accusations.
"What disappointed me was that when we mentioned the living wage, Rudenstine just started chatting it up with people," Amy C. Offner '01 said.
Yesterday's living wage protest did not come without precedent.
In May, PSLM staged a rally attended by more than 400 people in front of the Littauer Center that featured several big names, including Ben Affleck and Matt Damon, Class of 1992.
That rally was the culmination of a year-long push by the Harvard Living Wage Campaign, which has lobbied for a $10.25 minimum wage--a figure that the Cambridge city council adopted as the official Cambridge living wage.
Although the Ad-Hoc Committee's report addressed the need for increased benefits, it concluded that a higher minimum wage would be impractical.
Benjamin L. McKean '02 said he studied the intricacies of the report and found them unsettling and devious.
He said the report reduced the required wage-hours for benefit eligibility--down from 20 per week to 16 per week--simply because the University will cut the number wage-hours for each worker.
"They'll now be cut to 15 hours," McKean said.
And he said workers have yet to see additional benefits because the administration has been purposely neglectful.
"Not a single worker has received benefits. The implementation process is so slow," McKean said. "They don't have any idea of how many people are eligible and they haven't made any efforts to find out."
Members of PSLM said they plan to continue activism as long as the labor conditions persist.
"As long as Harvard fails to make a commitment to this situation, we'll be around," said Iris Z. Ahronowitz '03.
"We will make our presence known," said Aaron D. Bartley, a student at the law school.
But yesterday's singing didn't seem to bother Rudenstine.
"I think they were respectable--they have good voices," was his reaction.
--Staff writer Keith J. Lo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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