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After six months of research and deliberations, the Harvard Committee on Employment and Contracting Policies will quietly post its final report on its website next Wednesday, five days after the end of first semester classes at the College.
The report’s impending release has already begun to spark debate.
A strongly worded letter signed by 12 senior Faculty members was delivered to University President Lawrence H. Summers yesterday afternoon.
The letter—signed by Fletcher University Professor Cornel R. West ’74, Thomas Professor of Divinity Harvey G. Cox, Professor of Greek and Latin Richard F. Thomas and nine other Faculty members—states that Summers’ office has postponed two meetings scheduled with the Faculty members to discuss wage issues.
The letter expressed concern that choosing not to implement a mandatory wage floor could result in action similar to last spring’s Progressive Student Labor Movement (PSLM) Mass. Hall sit-in.
Last spring’s sit-in resulted in the formation of the committee, charged with evaluating employment conditions at Harvard.
“Although we learned much from the acrimony everyone endured last Spring, we do not wish to endure any more of the same—and more acrimony is, we fear, what we can expect from the constituencies affected most directly by the absence of a permanent solution to our current shortcomings,” the letter reads.
University spokesperson Joe Wrinn said yesterday evening he was not aware of the contents of the letter.
Why The 19th?
The Dec. 19 deadline for the committee’s report to be released has also raised questions. The committee’s recommendations will be made public next week, when the majority of students have already left campus for winter break.
The Dec. 19 deadline was set last spring, as a part of the compromise that ended the three-week long PSLM occupation of Mass. Hall.
The compromise came after a marathon negotiation session that included high-ranking AFL-CIO officials and top Harvard administrators, including General Counsel Anne Taylor and former Vice President for Government, Community and Public Affairs Paul S. Grogan.
Former University President Neil L. Rudenstine could not be contacted for this story and Taylor did not respond to repeated phone calls.
Wrinn said yesterday that he was unaware of any specific reason for the Dec. 19 deadline.
In negotiations, the protesters objected to the Dec. 19 deadline, but ultimately acceded to the University’s terms, said PSLM member Ari Z. Weisbard ’02-’03.
“There are lots of things that could have been better in the decision. We haven’t tried to change the date since the sit-in, any more than we’ve tried to change the committee,” said PSLM member Benjamin L. McKean ’02.
According to McKean, who is also a Crimson editor, releasing the report during break will compromise the education and discussion purpose the recommendations could serve.
“[Issuing the report] is an opportunity to stimulate dialogue,” McKean said. “It seems quite odd to me to stimulate dialogue when the majority of the campus is on break.”
The committee, chaired by Professor of Economics Lawrence F. Katz and made up of administrators, faculty members, union representatives and students, will include in its report data collected on wages and employment practices, as well as a series of non-binding recommendations to improve current labor conditions on campus.
After the report’s release, Summers will seek comment from members of the Harvard community before making a decision on the recommendations, Wrinn said.
PSLM member Madeleine S. Elfenbein ’04 said next Wednesday’s deadline is a “terrible time” for the report to come out—a time that was “deliberately chosen” by the administration.
She said PSLM members were more concerned with the committee’s membership and did not want to make the report deadline a sticking point.
Thomas, who has been involved with the living wage campaign, noted the Dec. 19 date marks the release of recommendations—not Summers’ final decision.
“I don’t find it intrinsically sinister,” he said. “Obviously there was some need for dispatch, given the pressure from those concerned with the issue.”
Although the committee has operated for the past six months under an agreement of confidentiality, much of the report’s data has already been released.
The data contained in this report will be similar to the material included in the Oct. 22 preliminary draft, which was culled primarily from computerized employment records covering the period from September 1994 to March 2001. In the final report the tables have been extended to incorporate additional figures from March to September 2001, Katz said.
The information released Oct. 22 revealed that the mean real wages paid to custodians, dining hall workers, guards and parking attendants have declined.
In particular, the purchasing power of these wages has been eroded by the rising cost of living in the Boston area.
Supplementing those figures will be analysis, fact-finding and recommendations which promise to reignite the living wage debate, no matter what the committee recommends.
According to Living Wage Notes, a PSLM newsletter door-dropped to undergraduates last week, the group is looking for students available to participate in an action on Dec. 19.
Elfenbein said she expects there will be “enough” students present in Cambridge to constitute an effective action.
According to Associate Dean of the College David P. Illingworth 71, the group has not yet applied for a rally permit.
According to Living Wage Notes, PSLM aims for a wage floor above $10.68 per hour, a permanent end to outsourcing, card-check neutrality in union organizing, expansion of full-time work and the creation of an inclusive board to oversee implementation of the recommendations.
“Anything below $10.68 per hour is absolutely unacceptable, but a meaningful living wage is beyond that,” Weisbard said.
PSLM members said they consider the living wage issue resolved, and that the role of the committee is merely to design a means for implementation.
“The committee is just a mechanism for translating what the community has already stated as its value into policy,” Weisbard said.
But committee members remain reticent about discussing any specifics.
“The committee’s report represents a very serious collective effort to come up with creative solutions to a number of troubling facts about wages at Harvard over the last decade,” Katz said.
“I think the committee as a whole is very proud of what we’ve done. We want the Harvard community to read our work—we’re pleased with it, overall,” said Matthew Milikowsky ’02, one of the committee’s two undergraduate representatives.
—Staff writer Daniela J. Lamas can be reached at email@example.com.
—Staff writer Ross A. Macdonald can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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