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UPDATED: Oct. 4, 2016, at 10:44 a.m.
The threat of rain did not deter nearly 400 Harvard affiliates from marching in front of Massachusetts Hall Friday afternoon in support of Harvard’s dining workers, who announced earlier in the day that they intend to strike next Wednesday should the University not comply with their demands.
Chanting “No justice, no food,” HUDS workers and students circled Harvard Yard before arriving at the statue of John Harvard, where workers shared their stories and opinions about the negotiations.
Representatives from other campus unions also attended the rally. Bill Jaeger, who heads the largest union on Harvard’s campus, the Harvard Union of Clerical and Technical Workers, said HUCTW intends to “fully support” the dining workers if they proceed with a strike.
Harvard and HUDS have been bargaining since June, when the union’s contract was initially set to expire. Fearing that negotiations would outlast the contract’s duration, both sides agreed to extend it until Sept. 17. But contract talks have persisted to the end of September. On Friday, UNITE HERE Local 26—the Boston-based union that represents Harvard’s dining workers—said the union would begin an “open-ended” strike next week if they did not reach a mutually beneficial agreement with Harvard.
Following the rally Friday evening, workers, union representatives, and students converged on Harvard Law School’s student lounge for a "speakout” event hosted by the Harvard National Lawyers Guild. Several HUDS workers shared with supporters their personal experiences of working at Harvard in a discussion moderated by Law student and Reclaim Harvard Law member Marco R. Castanos.
Reclaim Harvard Law, a group of student race and diversity activists who occupied that same lounge for much of the spring, was one of 15 Law School student groups that released a statement last week supporting HUDS and denouncing the contract stalemate. Since last spring, Reclaim sought to integrate staff into their movement, and on Friday cast the potential HUDS strike as a part of their “struggle” for racial justice.
“We recognize that the struggles of people from marginalized communities and people of color are universal, they’re not just confined to students. So it wouldn’t make sense for Reclaim and the strike not to stand in solidarity with one another,” Castanos said in an interview. “The struggles that they’re going for, to me at least, they’re synonymous.”
While panelists brought up common grievances related to healthcare and wages, racial justice emerged as a theme of Friday’s discussion, as workers recounted stories of alleged racial bias by dining services employers.
Students at Friday’s Law School “speakout” announced they plan to join HUDS workers on the picket lines, and Law student organizers urged their peers to boycott the school’s pub if workers strike Wednesday.
Edward B. Childs, a cook in Adams House, praised students from the Law School and Harvard Medical School for allying themselves with the union. Childs sharply rebuked University President Drew G. Faust’s comments earlier this week praising the worker’s health benefits, calling her “unprofessional.”
Childs specifically referenced an analysis conducted by a cohort of Medical School students of the health benefits proposal Harvard has extended to HUDS during this round of contract talks.
“The Medical School students are our experts,” Childs said.
Harvard and HUDS have been bargaining since June, when the union’s contract was initially set to expire. Fearing that negotiations would outlast the contract’s duration, both sides agreed to extend it until Sept. 17. But contract talks have persisted to the end of September.
A press release from UNITE HERE Local 26—the Boston-based union that represents Harvard’s dining workers—said the union would begin an “open-ended” strike next week if they did not reach a mutually beneficial agreement with Harvard.
The Student Labor Action Movement, an undergraduate group that has rallied for campus unions before, is calling on students to bring food from the dining hall to workers during the duration of the strike, if it occurs and if the dining halls are still open, according to SLAM member Kevin E. O’Donnell ’17.
“Obviously we can’t ask people not to eat in the dining halls,” O’Donnell said at the rally in the Yard. “What we’re asking people to do is, when you get food in the dining hall, bring it out to the picket lines and eat with the workers.
Additionally, SLAM is organizing what they describe as a “dine-in,” during which students would bring their trays from their dining halls and eat dinner in front of Mass. Hall.
—Ignacio Sabate, Michael E. Xie, and Dianne Lee contributed to the reporting of this story.
—Staff writer Brandon J. Dixon can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @BrandonJoDixon.
This article has been updated to reflect the following correction:
CORRECTION: Oct 4., 2016
A previous version of this article implied unionized HUDS employees staff Harvard Law School's pub. In fact, students work at the bar itself, and private contractor Restaurant Associates manages the food.
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