Student research assistants at Harvard Law School received their first pay raise in more than a decade this month thanks to a Massachusetts minimum wage law that took effect earlier this month.
Those law students are some of the 742 student workers throughout the University who received raises when the state minimum wage rose from $11 to $12 per hour starting Jan. 1.
The Massachusetts State Legislature passed the bill — termed the “grand bargain bill” — in June 2018. The bill increased the minimum wage to $12 starting at the beginning of 2019 and will gradually raise the minimum hourly pay to $15 by 2023.
Before the “grand bargain bill,” the hourly wage given to all Law School research assistants had stagnated at $11.50 since at least 2008, according to publicly available documents on the Law School website. That pay marked a lower hourly rate than the average wage earned by graduate research assistants — $16.50 — and the average hourly pay given to undergraduate research assistants — $13.50 — according to the Student Employment Office website.
Though the law triggered a pay increase for 742 student employees across the University, some workers did not receive a raise as a result of the legislation. Harvard’s other 6,983 student workers already made at least that much per hour, so the law did not affect their salaries, University spokesperson Jonathan Swain wrote in an email.
Some of the students who received wage increases because of the law, however, said they do not think the Law School did enough to secure adequate wages for them.
Yaacov “Jake” Meiseles, an law student research assistant and organizer for Harvard Graduate Students Union-United Auto Workers — a union comprising undergraduate and graduate teaching and research assistants — said he finds it concerning that the Law School continues to pay student research assistants the minimum amount allowed under the law.
“Research assistants are helping professors in writing massively influential books and law review articles and working on important cases and filing lawsuits," Meiseles said. "The fact that Harvard seems to value that at whatever the minimum the state is allowing them to get away with is deeply troubling."
Alexandra “Vail” Kohnert-Yount, another law student research assistant and union organizer, said the wages the school pays its student workers are not high enough to give them “a chance” to reduce their debt.
In an emailed statement, University spokesperson Melodie L. Jackson declined to respond to questions about the specifics of the Law School wage increase, citing ongoing contract negotiations between Harvard and the graduate union.
“With the certification of HGSU-UAW as the representative of HLS research and teaching assistants, wage rates are now part of the ongoing negotiations between the University and the union,” Jackson wrote. “HLS continues to respect and await the outcome of that process.”
Representatives from the University and the union have met every two weeks since October to negotiate a contract for the union’s members. Experts say the negotiation process could stretch on for months.
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