UPDATED: October 22, 2016, at 9:12 p.m.
About a thousand people from across New England marched in support of Harvard’s dining services employees from Cambridge Common down Massachusetts Avenue late Saturday afternoon, stopping traffic as they headed toward City Hall.
The protests began with a rally at the Science Center Plaza shortly before 3 p.m., after which HUDS supporters gathered in Cambridge Common. There, members of UNITE HERE Local 26—the Boston union that represents HUDS workers—used a makeshift stage in the back of a flatbed truck to address the growing crowd of supporters. HUDS employees, students, and other Local 26 members spoke at the rally before the group marched through Harvard Yard and onto Massachusetts Ave., where both lanes of traffic were stopped. The march ended with a rally on the steps of Cambridge City Hall.
Cambridge Police Department spokesperson Jeremy Warnick said “this was the largest rally yet, and since they walked all the way to City Hall it was a bit different to plan for.”
Speakers at the rally included UNITE HERE Local 26 President Brian Lang, women employees arrested in last week’s protest, Teamsters Local 25 President Sean O’Brien, members of SEIU Local 615, and undergraduate and graduate students. Supporters from colleges across the Boston area, including Tufts, Northeastern, UMass Boston, and MIT marched with HUDS employees and union representatives from cities down the East Coast.
Protesters marched Saturday as representatives from Local 26 continue tense, ongoing contract negotiations with the University. On Thursday, Dean for Administration and Finance Sheila C. Thimba wrote in an email to Faculty Deans that there were “hopeful signs of progress” in negotiations that day.
University spokesperson Tania deLuzuriaga wrote in a statement that “Harvard deeply values the contributions of its dining services employees.”
“Over the past four months, Harvard has been committed to working with Local 26 in good faith to reach a new agreement that recognizes our colleagues’ important contributions,” deLuzuriaga wrote, indicating that the University had extended a new health benefits plan to HUDS employees that would cut deductibles, increase copayments, and create a new premium contribution salary tier.
Nicole M. Joseph, a student from the Tufts University Labor Coalition, attended the rally with at least nine other students in the group. Janitors at Tufts have been in contract negotiations similar to HUDS’s, Joseph said.
“In my time in the university setting, it has been clear how higher education institutions don’t treat their workers well. This is something we see on our campus and here at Harvard as well,” Joseph said.
Diana St. Mark, a University of Hartford dining employee and member of the Connecticut UNITE HERE Local 217, said food services contract negotiations are also underway at her university and other colleges across the state.
“This rally gives us the ability to see that it’s not just us. If they’re under attack, we’re under attack,” St. Mark said.
Students from Wesleyan University and Yale University also attended the rally. Spencer A. Brown, a member of Wesleyan’s United Student Labor Action Coalition, said he came in support of HUDS “especially since there are negotiations across Connecticut now.”
Warnick said the department was “of course well aware of the plan and the riot before hand.”
Their march comes the same weekend as the Head of the Charles Regatta, the world’s largest two-day rowing event held in Cambridge, which this year was expected to draw 400,000 attendees. In planning for the rally, Warnick said “there were certainly some contingency plans in place” in case the regatta was disrupted.
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