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As a part of the continuing controversy over workers’ wages at Harvard, the Progressive Student Labor Movement (PSLM) hosted journalist Barbara Ehrenreich on Friday to discuss her book Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America.
PSLM organizers scheduled the event to educate students about their particular concerns for this Wednesday’s wage negotition meeting between representatives of Harvard’s Labor Relations Department and Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 254, which represents Harvard janitors.
“It’s especially critical for people to know what’s going on with the janitors right now because the improvements recommended by the Katz Committee haven’t yet materialized,” PSLM organizer Alex B. Horowitz ’02 said.
Two janitors active in the campaign for higher wages discussed what they call Harvard’s “poor treatment” of employees during Friday’s event.
Daniel Mejia, a janitor and president of the Harvard Workers’ Center spoke in Spanish—with a student translating his comments into English—about difficulties he and his coworkers face.
“Many of my friends have to work two or three jobs, and are still forced to share a crowded apartment with another family,” Mejia said in a later interview in English.
For her part, Ehrenreich spoke in support of living wage efforts across the country, saying that America fails to adequately care for lower income workers and families.
She also discussed her book that features her posing as a housewife re-entering the workforce. Ehrenreich said her goal in this action was to experience the challenges of living on the low wages of entry-level workers.
“This country is very far behind, we don’t provide universal health insurance, child care and other essentials,” Ehrenreich said.
Although this will be the sixth week of negotiations between Harvard and the janitors’ union, PSLM organizers said this week’s session is particularly important because a number of janitors will “risk arrest” in a protest that will escalate the controversy and heighten awareness.
The campaign has been steadily increasing the pressure on the administration, including a teach-in by about 20 students at Mass. Hall on Thursday afternoon.
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