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Approximately 30 students and members of Service Employees International Union Local 615, the union which represents Harvard custodial workers, marched from Au Bon Pain to Radcliffe Gymnasium before the first day of contract negotiations began Monday.
Workers shouted rallying cries as they went, chanting phrases such as “Si se puede!” (Yes we can) and “No contract, no peace!”
Leaders of SEIU said that the purpose of the march was to raise awareness about the contract negotiations, as well as to present a strong, united front to the University.
“We will stand together against injustice,” said Nancy Diaz, a member of the bargaining committee for SEIU. “They can’t knock us down.”
Diaz said that the union’s primary concerns going into negotiations are better salaries and full-time employment.
“Full-time employment is very important because it puts an end to split shifts,” she said. “When you are working in the morning, then coming back to work at night, there is not time to spend with family.”
Diaz said that another top priority for the SEIU bargaining committee will be increasing opportunity for career mobility based on seniority.
“Workers who have been there longer deserve more respect,” Diaz said. “Respect for seniority gives people the opportunity to better their work, to get a better job.”
Dean Phane, a Harvard custodial worker in the union, said that the committee is focused on making sure that the University does not take away any of the privileges workers have already won.
“We worry about Harvard letting the custodial department carry the burden of the economy,” Phane said. “Shops don’t tell us we can have a loaf of bread or a gallon of milk for half price because the economy is bad. We need fair wages and benefits.”
He added that while he believes the University is generally a good employer, he thinks they “could be better.”
“They’re not respecting the workers right now,” he said. “That needs to change.”
Students who marched with the workers said they want University employees to know they have student support.
“The employees here make up an extremely important part of the Harvard community,” said Calvin Tonini ’15. “They are a reflection of the Harvard community, and the Cambridge and Allston communities.”
After the negotiations, union bargaining committee members said that they were pleased with how the first day went.
“It was a good start,” said Director of Higher Education for SEIU Local 615 Wayne M. Langley. “I think we’ll have some really good, thorough negotiations.”
The University also said it expects mutually beneficial negotiations.
The University said it anticipates a mutually beneficial round of contract negotiations.
“We are looking forward to a round of contract talks that we hope will be productive for both the University and the people who help to make it one of the world’s premier institutions for research and education,” said University spokesperson Kevin Galvin.
—Staff writer Mercer R. Cook can be reached at email@example.com.
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