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HLS Groups Blast Harvard for Contract Stalemate with its Dining Workers

A ballot box at the HUDS Strike Vote on Thursday.  Voting was carried out throughout the day, beginning in the morning and continuing until 11pm.
A ballot box at the HUDS Strike Vote on Thursday. Voting was carried out throughout the day, beginning in the morning and continuing until 11pm.
By Brandon J. Dixon, Crimson Staff Writer

Fifteen student groups from Harvard Law School issued a statement on their website reproaching Harvard’s bargaining record with its dining service workers, characterizing the ongoing stalemate in HUDS’ most recent round of contract talks as a class and racial justice “struggle.”

A ballot box at the HUDS Strike Vote earlier this month.
A ballot box at the HUDS Strike Vote earlier this month. By Suproteem K. Sarkar

The groups issued their statement about a week after HUDS workers voted overwhelmingly in favor of authorizing a strike should the University not meet their demands for wage increases and altered health care benefits, chalking up a 591-18 vote last Thursday to approve such a move. Though their contract—which was originally extended from mid-June—expired last week, the union will meet with Harvard negotiators for a final bargaining session on Sept. 27. A federal mediator will facilitate the contract talks.

“We the students of Harvard Law School refuse to abandon HUDS workers in their struggle for justice!” the groups wrote in the page-long statement.

The signatories include groups such as Reclaim Harvard Law—whose members spent the past year rallying the school’s administration for, among other demands, increased diversity faculty and students—as well the BGLTQ group Lambda at Harvard Law School and Harvard’s chapter of the National Lawyer’s Guild. Their statement is the latest show of student support for HUDS workers; students from Harvard’s Medical and Dental schools rallied in support of HUDS in Longwood last Monday, and a petition disseminated by a group of undergraduates had garnered more than 2,400 signatures at the time of the HUDS vote.

“Harvard deeply values the contributions of our dining hall worker[s], as evidenced by the fact that they receive some of the most generous wages and benefits in the food service industry. Under the healthcare changes proposed by the University, dining employees will see their healthcare costs rise an average of $11 a month,” University spokesperson Tania deLuzuriaga wrote in a statement.

The groups’ statement references Harvard’s recent announcement that it had raised $7 billion for its historic fundraising drive—a popular refrain among supporters of the HUDS strike. But Harvard cannot pull money from the campaign to pay HUDS workers, University spokespeople and endowment analysts point out, especially given that many of of the gifts are restricted for particular purposes.

To date, Harvard has met with UNITE HERE Local 26—the Boston-based union that represents dining employees—for a total of 15 bargaining sessions over the course of the past three months. The two groups have clashed over the workers’ health care benefits package and a proposal from the union for increases in annual wages and more work time.

Gene VanBuren, a cook at the Harvard Law School’s pub, wrote that “it’s great to hear they’ve got our backs” after he heard about the statement. HUDS workers staff the Pub, but Restaurant Associates, an outside contractor, services the rest of the school’s eateries.

Health care concerns have been the leading topic of discussion during the course of the negotiations. Harvard offered its dining workers the same plan it extended to its largest union, Harvard Union of Clerical and Technical Workers last winter. That plan eliminated deductibles in favor of moderately increasing copayments.

—Staff writer Brandon J. Dixon can be reached at brandon.dixon@thecrimson.com. Follow him on Twitter @BrandonJoDixon.

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Central AdministrationHarvard Law SchoolLaborUniversity FinancesUniversityUniversity NewsNews Front FeatureLobbyingUnionizationHUCTW