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BOSTON—Donning white coats, a crowd of Harvard Medical School students rallied Monday in support of the University’s dining services workers, who are threatening to strike as they enter the last scheduled week of negotiations with the University before their union’s contract expires.
Nearly 100 students from across the Medical and Dental Schools, located in downtown Boston, gathered on the lawn in front of the Medical School's iconic Gordon Hall, and individual speakers took turns detailing to the crowd how Harvard University Dining Services workers have supported them throughout their time at Harvard.
A group of Medical School students will attend a HUDS bargaining session this week to help guide the discussion on health care benefits, according to Angel Reyes—a Medical student who helped organize the rally.
Dining services employees in Longwood work at Sebastian’s—a popular cafe at Harvard’s School of Public Health.
After gathering on the lawn, the crowd then marched to the building’s steps, chanting, “What do we want? Health care. Who do we want it for? HUDS.”
Members of UNITE HERE Local 26, the union that bargains on behalf of Harvard’s dining employees, are threatening to strike after their current contract—which includes a “no-strike” clause and was already extended from mid-June—expires this Saturday. Workers will vote to authorize a strike on Thursday should the University not comply with some of their demands.
A point of contention in the contract talks is the workers’ health care benefits, which they argue are inadequate partly because they include deductibles.
At the beginning of the negotiations, Harvard offered HUDS the same healthcare plan it extended to the University’s largest union—the Harvard Union of Clerical and Technical Workers—last winter, which cut deductibles but slightly increased copayments. The dining services union rejected the University’s offer.
In addition, Local 26 is insisting the University allow interested employees to work year-round. Currently, most HUDS employees do not work during summer or winter recess.
Local 26 is demanding that employees who work year round be guaranteed Under Local 26’s $35,000 minimum salary, according to union spokesperson Tiffany Ten Eyck.
University spokesperson Tania deLuzuriaga wrote in a statement last week after a different rally that “Harvard’s dining hall workers currently receive highly competitive wages that lead the local and national workforce for comparable positions in the food service industry.”
In late August, Medical School students organized an event aimed at drafting a list of requests for the school’s new dean, George Q. Daley ’82, who was in attendance, which included putting more students on faculty search committees and increasing diversity within the student body. Members of Local 26 spoke about rising healthcare costs at the event and how Medical School students could become involved in their efforts.
Over the past year, students from the Longwood area—including from the Medical School, the School of Public Health, and the Dental School—have called on administrators to double their efforts to increase diversity on their respective campuses.
—Staff writer Brandon J. Dixon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @BrandonJoDixon.
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