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Over 600 students and custodians, wielding homemade noisemakers and chanting in Spanish and English, marched through Harvard Yard and across Mass. Ave Friday to reiterate their demands that Harvard increase wages, end outsourcing and provide health insurance to University workers.
Nearly 500 students attended the rally “Justice for Janitors,” the largest since the end of last spring’s sit-in.
Members of the Progressive Students Labor Movement (PSLM), who helped organize the rally, said it was held at the behest of Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 254, which represents Harvard’s unionized janitors. SEIU will be negotiating a new contract with the University early next year—earlier than planned as a direct result of PSLM’s sit-in last spring.
Nearly 100 custodians and family members met marching students on Friday afternoon as they passed Holyoke Center and the two groups walked together in a procession up Mass. Ave., through Johnston Gate and to the front of Mass. Hall.
Even though the venue was familiar from last year’s sit-in, the rally bore the marks of SEIU’s recent actions at Tufts, in which the union obtained a wage floor, employer-supported health insurance and a promise of job security following several months of occasional protests and sometimes contentious negotiations.
A small contingent of protestors from Tufts’ Student Labor Action Movement attended Friday’s rally, where speakers alluded to the Tufts contract as a vindication of the living wage agenda.
“We can do even better here than they did at Tufts, because we’re a lot
richer,” PSLM member Emma S. Mackinnon ’05 told the crowd assembled outside the Science Center.
The relatively small speaker list at the rally included such sit-in mainstays as State Representative Jarrett T. Barrios ’90 and Kennedy School of Government Professor Marshall L. Ganz.
Jean Phane, a custodian from Harvard Medical School, told the crowd that his salary of $9.65 per hour was inadequate to the expenses of living in the Boston area.
“Are you listening, Harvard? I am Jean Phane. I work at the Harvard Medical
School and I need more money!” he shouted.
SEIU emblems—flags, posters, banners and t-shirts in the union colors of purple and yellow—dominated the rally, but PSLM pageantry was also in evidence, in the form of a ten foot-long mop and two gigantic puppets that towered over the crowd.
Clothed in black, with Easter Island faces and pilgrim hats, the puppets bore labels on their chests identifying them as members of the Harvard Corporation, the University’s highest governing board and a frequent target of PSLM protests.
The puppets danced and cheered as the crowd chanted “Larry Summers, wake up call. You can’t hide in Mass
Although PSLM was not the principle organizer of the rally, the group spent several weeks postering, calling and emailing students to urge them to attend.
“This is momentous because the janitors who clean our hallways need our
support in their upcoming contract negotiations,” Mackinnon said.
Organizers said Friday’s rally was geared towards SEIU’s upcoming negotiations, but speakers also drew attention to the ongoing activities of the Harvard Committee on Employment and Contracting Policy, popularly known as the Katz Committee.
The committee, convened by former President Neil L. Rudenstine in the aftermath of the sit-in, is charged with making recommendations to University President Lawrence H. Summers on Harvard’s employment standards. With the report due on Dec. 19, PSLM member say they plan to press the issue in the context of the union negotiations.
“It’s up to us to pressure Summers to make sure he follows the recommendations,” Mackinnon said. “[Summers and the members of the Corporation] have to feel the heat.”
—Staff writer Daniela J. Lamas contributed to the reporting of this article.
—Staff writer Ross A. Macdonald can be reached at email@example.com.
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