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Service Employees International Union, the union that includes many Harvard janitors and security guards, officially launched its contract campaign for Harvard security workers on Saturday with a gathering in the Science Center.
The event—which was attended by union members and students as well local supporters—included a variety of speeches stressing the importance of the union during the coming negotiations.
Speakers told the audience that SEIU was not afraid to fight Harvard in order to achieve their goals. They also stressed the importance of unions to the Harvard community.
“You make Harvard Harvard,” said Cambridge City Councilor Leland Cheung, a student at Harvard Kennedy School. “The City Council stands with you,” he added.
Karen A. Narefsky ’11, a member of the Student Labor Action Movement, emphasized that it was essential that SEIU members attain a fair contract. Speaking in English and Spanish, she told the audience members that they have the support of the Harvard student community.
“We are behind you 100 percent,” Narefsky said. “We are calling on Harvard to provide jobs that are just and sustainable.”
Speakers also stressed the need for unity, both within SEIU and among workers outside of the union.
“If we are not united, we lose,” said Wayne M. Langley, director of higher education for SEIU Local 615.
The audience responded enthusiastically to many of the speakers, breaking out into applause and chanting, “When we fight, we win!”
Narefsky said she considered unity to be the primary theme of the event.
“The message was linking the struggles that are happening here to struggles that are going on a national level,” she said.
Organizers of the event said they thought it was a good kickoff to the campaign, but were focused on the difficult negotiations ahead.
“We think that the University has the resources and furthermore the obligation to provide us with a fair contract,” Langley said. “As a non-profit, Harvard should be a leader in [fair] labor relations.”
But Langley said he is not looking for a battle.
“I think we should try and work out our differences,” he said. “To fight does not serve anybody’s best interest.”
Following the union meeting, many attendees of the rally marched in solidarity with employees of The Upper Crust Pizzeria.
The Upper Crust is currently facing allegations that the pizza chain violated labor laws by demanding repayment of back wages, paying workers less than the minimum wage, and firing workers unfairly.
—Staff writer Mercer R. Cook can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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