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UPDATED: October 19, 2016, at 4:38 p.m.
As Harvard University Dining Services employees head into the second of week of their historic strike, some alumni, who say they think the University is treating its employees unfairly, have pledged to withhold donations from Harvard and contribute directly to the union representing HUDS.
Last week, HUDS employees stopped showing up to work, instead forming picket lines in front of dining halls, as they and their Boston-based union, UNITE HERE Local 26, continued to negotiate with the University. In particular, the two parties have disagreed for months about wages and health benefits for the HUDS employees. The strike has closed some dining halls across campus as the University recruits a mix of temporary employees and available University staffers to fill the labor shortage.
A number of alumni are now circulating a pledge to not donate to the University “until HUDS workers settle a fair contract,” and instead redirect any donations to the Local 26 Hardship Fund. The fund will pay the striking employees $40 a day, according to Local 26 president Brian Lang, though they have yet to actually receive the pledged amount.
“As an alum, I feel that it's my responsibility to hold my alma mater accountable,” said Brianna J. Suslovic ’16. “Alumni have the power to withhold donations to Harvard, and to donate instead to support HUDS workers who are currently striking without pay.”
Nancy Kalow Dektar ’82, who also signed the petition, said she would be diverting her usual donations to Harvard—which has now raised more than $7 billion in its record-breaking fundraising drive—to the HUDS strike fund.
“I would only ask that they negotiate in good faith and come to a good solution quickly,” Dektar said. “I know how inconvenient it is for the undergraduates at a busy time of the year, but I would hope that they would support the dining hall workers who care about them very much.”
In an emailed statement, Harvard spokesperson Tania M. deLuzuriaga wrote that the University has made “good faith attempts” to negotiate with the union, offering proposals “that would ensure that Harvard remains a leader on compensation for dining hall workers on wages, healthcare, retirement, and other benefits when compared to peers throughout the region.”
But Joseph Z. Cortes ’81, in an email to the Class of 1981 Gift Committee, wrote that he was “upset that Harvard seems to be ‘nickel and diming’ its workers, who are firmly in the lower to middle economic class.”
Other alumni, though, see the negotiations as a question of funding trade-offs.
“Sure they can pay employees more,” Paul J. Zofnass ’69, a University donor, wrote in an email. “Just reduce the scholarships, or reduce what you pay for the top academic talent, or slow down the house renovations, or eliminate some of the athletic teams.”
Negotiations between the University and Local 26 have recently stalled, and the strike will likely continue for the rest of the week.
—Staff writer C. Ramsey Fahs contributed reporting.
—Staff writer Andrew M. Duehren can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @aduehren.
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
CORRECTION: October 19, 2016
A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that the Gift Committee for the Class of 1981 is planning to gather more information about the strike and submit a letter of concern to Harvard. In fact, while some members of the 1981 Gift Committee expressed support for the cause, a separate group of alumni, not committee itself, will decide on possible action.
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