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A Master Plan for Good Jobs

By Gabriel H. Bayard and Sandra Y.L. Korn

As anyone who has been following Harvard’s development plans knows, our University does not have a great track record in giving back to the community surrounding its campus. But as Harvard moves forward with its plans to build, among other things, a hotel and conference center in North Allston, it has the responsibility to bring good jobs to the Allston community.

Harvard first announced its plans for major new development in Allston in 1997. After 10 years of planning and eventually breaking ground, Harvard halted construction of its planned Science Complex in 2009 in response to the financial crisis. Now that our Uuniversity’s endowment is steadily climbing again, it has finally decided to move forward with development; last summer, Harvard submitted a revised Institutional Master Plan to the Boston Redevelopment Authority.

Harvard’s new IMP looks promising so far. It includes proposals to build a new basketball stadium, a hotel, and a conference center, as well as update and renew existing buildings in the North Allston part of campus. The BRA also mandates that all development plans include a community benefits package designed to mitigate the negative impact of large construction projects on local neighborhoods, and Harvard’s proposed community benefits package now includes such things as streetscape improvements and scholarship programs. These are important ways in which Harvard can give back—but they do not address structural economic issues in Allston. As The Crimson Staff wrote last month, “Harvard’s attempts at providing community benefits have included the Harvard-Allston Education Portal and the construction of a mini-golf course for the use of Allston community members. While education and entertainment are important, residents dealing with business closures, construction sites, and rapidly changing neighborhood demographics deserve benefits related to housing, employment, and transportation.”

The BRA gives community members a 60-day comment period, which has been extended until this Wednesday. Wednesday night, the Harvard Allston Task Force will meet to finalize and submit their comments to Harvard’s revised IMP.

Harvard’s revised IMP states that for the more than 2,500 construction jobs, “Harvard will make reasonable good-faith efforts to have at least 50 percent of the total employee work hours be for Boston residents.” But what about the jobs held by Boston residents after Harvard finishes development? Harvard has leased out space in Allston to tenant businesses like the Boston Boxing Club, creating approximately 390 jobs in the last three years. More than 1,000 new workers will be employed on Harvard’s property in the next 10 years. Will these be sustainable and livable jobs?

Although we don’t know about the working conditions at Boston Boxing Club, we do know about one large commercial property owned by Harvard in Allston: the DoubleTree Hotel, which our University purchased in 2005. Sadly, Harvard has been far from a responsible owner of the DoubleTree. In fact, when a majority of the workers at the DoubleTree petitioned management asking for a fair process to decide on unionization, the hotel’s managers, contracted by Harvard, denied them this process, going as far as retaliating against worker leaders in the hotel, according to a group of employees there. Harvard has failed to ensure that its workers at the DoubleTree are given a fair process for unionization. Workers at Harvard’s hotel also allege that they face unhealthy working conditions. Delmy Lemus, a room attendant at the Doubletree Allston hotel, wrote in a letter to the editor of The Crimson last spring, “When my back was injured because when I was pregnant, my managers continued to assign me the same workload. … I want to be treated like a human being, not just a pair of hands and a back.”

Luckily, Allston community members and Harvard have a way of ensuring that employees at Harvard’s new hotel and conference center will never face the kind of injustice Delmy describes. Good jobs are an important and necessary community benefit. Thus, we ask that Harvard include language in the IMP to ensure that the jobs it brings to Allston are good jobs: jobs in which workers get paid a living wage and have a fair process to decide on unionization. Harvard should guarantee that it will remain neutral on its employees’ choice of union and commit to fair labor practices and a living wage to all employees at Harvard-owned for-profit businesses, as well as at all third-party operators and managers of for-profit businesses that operate under contract with Harvard. The Harvard-Allston Task Force is already aware of the importance of employment issues in Allston, and we hope that this language finds its way into their submitted comments, and then into Harvard’s final IMP.

Harvard should hold jobs in Allston to the same standard that it holds jobs on Harvard’s Cambridge campus.  Harvard has respected previous fair unionization processes at other subcontracted Harvard workplaces before—most notably at the Law School cafeteria—and we believe that this practice should be standard for all Harvard-owned properties.

As a non-profit educational institution, Harvard should have no problem guaranteeing good employment in the neighborhoods that it develops. The Responsible Investment at Harvard Coalition has asked that Harvard be a responsible owner for all of its directly held properties. Harvard, here’s a good way to start: Include strong language in your IMP guaranteeing good jobs, a community benefit that will truly help support economic development in Allston for years to come.

Gabriel H. Bayard ’15 is a social studies concentrator in Lowell House. Sandra Y. L. Korn ’14, a Crimson editorial writer, is a join history of science and studies of women, gender, and sexuality concentrator in Eliot House. They are both members of the Student Labor Action Movement and Responsible Investment at Harvard Coalition.

This article has been revised to reflect the following clarification:

CLARIFICATION: January 28, 2014

An earlier version of headline of this article and statements in the article stated that the DoubleTree Suites hotel is Harvard-owned. To clarify, the company is housed in a Harvard-owned building.

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