Since Harvard’s dining service workers began their historic strike last week, the University and the union that represents those employees have publicly sparred over proposed health care plans and wage increases. While both parties are far from agreement on those issues, negotiators are making progress on a proposal that until recently has received little attention: the creation of a HUDS-specific diversity task force.
University spokesperson Tania DeLuzuriaga said Harvard administrators have “agreed in principle” to the creation of a diversity committee, first officially proposed in June. Harvard’s latest proposal, which University representatives presented to dining hall workers on Saturday, would create a “Joint Labor Management Committee” within 30 days of contract ratification. The committee—to be composed of equal numbers of HUDS management and union representatives—would discuss HUDS-specific issues relating to diversity and provide input to a recently-created University-wide diversity task force.
Negotiators are still fine-tuning details of the HUDS diversity task force.
“It is much more favorable than previous versions but needs more discussion,” Tiffany Ten Eyck, a spokesperson UNITE HERE Local 26—the Boston-based union representing HUDS—wrote in an email.
While the proposal has been on the table since June, students groups at the Law School have recently advocated to make diversity a more central issue in the negotiations. Last Friday, Harvard Law student groups Reclaim Harvard Law and the Harvard National Lawyers Guild released a statement endorsing the task force proposal.
The groups, which have a history of race-related activism, aim to cast the strike as a racial justice “struggle” and tie it to Reclaim Harvard Law’s own movement. The groups first endorsed the HUDS strike in a statement in September and recently held an event in the Law School’s student lounge, where dining services workers shared personal stories of race-based discrimination. The groups’ statement Friday, published in both English and Spanish on Reclaim Harvard Law’s website, supports creating a task force in order to “remedy severe racial and gender-based inequality.”
“The challenges that HUDS workers are facing are unique in a way that distinguishes them from the challenges that the rest of the community faces in terms of racial justice," said second-year Law student Collin P. Poirot, a member of both Reclaim Harvard Law and the Harvard National Lawyers Guild.
Laqueisha Rainey and William Ridgley, Winthrop House HUDS employees who are both members of the bargaining committee, said workers feel University-wide diversity committees and initiatives cannot adequately address HUDS-specific issues.
“We proposed trying to do a diversity task force for HUDS because quite frankly there isn’t anything here that specifically targets the dining hall workers,” Rainey said.
Rainey, who described prejudice as “very systemic” across dining services at Harvard, recounted stories of female workers she knew being passed over for promotions to cook. And Rainey and Ridgely said they have both witnessed or heard of incidents of managers making derogatory comments to workers.
“The problem we see is that we bring these issues up to local human resources, but it’s never brought to administration. It just dies at that level,” Ridgley said. He hopes the task force will bring attention to problems with diversity in the workplace.
Harvard chief diversity officer and special assistant to the president Lisa Coleman said her office has not received any complaints about the diversity of management by HUDS workers. DeLuzuriaga said demographic data on HUDS workers and managers is not publicly available.
Concerns about bias in hiring and promotion in part prompted workers to propose the task force in negotiations in June, Ten Eyck said.
“It’s about that task force being allowed to look at how everything in contract works, how every hiring decision happens, and being able to interpret whether those decisions are happening fairly,” Ten Eyck said.
Ridgely also expressed concern about HUDS workers’ abilities to provide feedback to the University about diversity and discrimination on the job.
“I’ve worked here for 14 years and no one has ever once walked up to me and said ‘Hey, how do you feel about diversity in the workplace,’” Ridgely said.
Each year, employees across the University take an engagement survey intended to measure employee satisfaction. Coleman, whose office administers the survey, said the survey is available in three languages and the University works to find ways to provide it to workers without computers or who have difficulty completing it during work hours.
The survey does not contain questions directly referencing diversity or diversity trainings, Coleman said.
Instead, the survey asks questions about satisfaction with management and whether workers experienced unequal treatment.DeLuzuriaga wrote in an email that HUDS-specific results of the latest employee engagement survey are not available to the public.—Staff writer Claire E. Parker can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @ClaireParkerDC.