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UPDATED: April 14, 2016, at 11:15 p.m.
On a day when workers and students took to the streets across the country to rally for minimum wage reform, over 200 Harvard affiliates gathered in front of Massachusetts Hall to push for higher wages and increased health benefits for Harvard’s dining services employees.
The rally comes on the heels of the announcement earlier this week that Harvard made history in fundraising for its capital campaign, surpassing all of its peer institutions to yield an unprecedented amount of at least $6.5 billion in donations thus far.
Harvard is currently the world’s wealthiest university, touting a $37.6 billion endowment. Referencing the University's financial strength, demonstrators marched in a circle chanting “Hey Harvard, you’ve got cash, why do you treat your employees like trash?” among other phrases.
Tania DeLuzuriaga, a spokesperson for the University, wrote in an emailed statement that “Local 26 employees currently receive highly competitive wages that are among the highest for the local and national workforce for comparable positions in the foodservice industry.”
Unite Here Local 26 is a local union that represents Harvard’s dining services employees.
Gabe G. Hogdkin ’18, a member of the Student Labor Action Movement, said he initially expected a turnout of around 75 people. Participants said they were surprised to see that more than 200 Harvard affiliates attended the march. Some had been notified about the event ahead of time, via Facebook; others passed by the demonstration and decided to join in.
A pair of recently admitted students entered the Yard from the MBTA stop and stood on the fringes of the protest, initially confused, but ultimately encouraged by the event.
“I found it stimulating,” Constance Bourguingnon said. “This is exactly the kind of environment I want to be in.”
The event attracted student groups from across Harvard, notably Reclaim Harvard Law School, the Harvard Medical School Racial Justice Coalition, and the Harvard College Democrats. Other participants included workers from other unions on campus, and even one janitorial worker from Emerson College.
The rally is the latest in a series of events SLAM has hosted since launching their “One Harvard” campaign. Last month, members of SLAM presented University President Drew G. Faust with a letter calling for her to join a “coalition” of groups focused on improving wages and healthcare benefits for dining services employees. Sam Heller ’18, a member of SLAM, said the group also invited Faust to attend the rally, but received notice that Faust was unavailable.
At the center of the debate is an issue that has been especially contentious over the past few years: healthcare. In 2014, the University rolled out a healthcare plan for its non-union employees, which some professors criticized for including copayments and deductibles for non-routine appointments. In response, the University amended that agreement to mitigate the burden on its employees. The most recent contract between the University and its largest employee union did not include deductibles, but instead established a “premium contribution tier” for workers whose salary falls beneath $55,000.
Workers are also pushing to have the term of their employment extended, which goes through the academic year, but not during the summer when the majority of undergraduates are away.
DeLuzuriaga wrote that the administration informed HUDS workers of the “cyclical nature” of their job during the hiring process. “In addition to maintaining their health and other benefits during the breaks, the University also offers these employees the opportunity to attend paid trainings during these periods.” she added.
The contract between the University and HUDS workers is set to expire this June.
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
CORRECTION: April 14
An earlier version of this article mispelled the name of Gabe G. Hogdkin ’18.
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