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Members of on-campus activist organization Student Labor Action Movement joined UNITE HERE Local 26 members to rally outside the Harvard Club of Boston on Thursday evening in protest of proposed changes to employee health care plans, which they say would raise out-of-pocket costs for employees. Local 26 serves Boston’s hotel and food service workers and represents Harvard Club staff.
The Harvard Club of Boston, a private business not affiliated with the University but serving Harvard alumni and graduates of selected affiliated universities, has been engaged with contract renegotiations since last spring, Local 26 organizer Tiffany Ten Eyck said. According to Ten Eyck, the proposed plan would include higher deductibles and copays.
“[It] doesn’t represent what the club is about, it doesn’t represent what the Harvard community is to [the workers,]” Ten-Eyck said.
For her part, Harvard Club of Boston spokesperson Diana C. Pisciotta wrote in an emailed statement that the proposed health care plan will not reduce benefits, and emphasized that the hotel’s vacation time allotments and scheduling as well as its $17-22 per hour wages are competitive.
“We are fully committed to strong health insurance benefits and have recommended a health plan that both maintains the current level of benefits and is more cost-effective than the current UNITE plan,” Pisciotta said in the statement.
Protesters carried signs and chanted outside the front entrance of the Harvard Club, which is located in downtown Boston. Rally organizers scheduled the protest for Thursday to coincide with the club’s annual live boxing match and dinner event in order to “try to exert some pressure” on members of the club, SLAM member Henry M. Gomory ’17 said.
“[Harvard Club workers] feel certain that club members will be sympathetic, that they don’t want to see picket lines in front of their club,” Ten Eyck said. “They’re going to whatever it takes to get club members to talk to them.”
For some members of SLAM, Timothy H. Shea ’18 said, the rally is significant in the larger context of healthcare debates at Harvard, which have abounded since fall 2014 when the University restructured and then modified changes to health care benefits for non-union employees amidst backlash. Health care is also a point of contention in the ongoing contract renegotiation between the University and the Harvard Union of Clerical and Technical Workers.
“As future alumni, we have a responsibility to make sure our voices are heard about this, and [Harvard Club workers’] voices are heard about this,” Shea said.
Yosy M. Villatoro, a housekeeper at the Harvard Club, said the protests aim to keep health care and benefits at their current levels. “We want health insurance that’s fair, that we can actually afford,” Villatoro said via a translator. “If we get a good agreement our families are the direct beneficiaries of it.”
The rally, the workers’ second this month, comes two years after the club met a class action lawsuit from employees with a $4 million settlement. In that lawsuit, wait staff employees argued that the Club’s practice of including a 17 percent “Club Charge” on meal and beverage bills, which was not issued to workers as gratuity, was misleading and had violated Massachusetts tip laws. Local 26 president Brian Lang, who helped organize the rally, said the current debates about healthcare and benefits are charged by the previous settlement.
Lang said future rallies remain a possibility.
“We’re planning on doing whatever it takes to stand behind these workers and make sure they get a fair and just contract,” he said.
University spokespeople declined to comment on the rally.
—Staff writer Emma K. Talkoff can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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