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Harvard Law Students Call on Dean Manning to Support Dining Hall Workers

HLS Dining
Law students gather at the Harkness Cafe in Wasserstein Hall to eat and study.

More than 300 Harvard Law School students have signed onto a public letter calling on Law School Dean John F. Manning ’82 to re-institute longer hours at campus cafes and address what they say is chronic understaffing at those foodservice locations.

The letter is also addressed to Restaurant Associates General Manager Lauren Williams, whose company contracts with the Law School to provide dining management services. The letter argues that mealtimes are “hectic,” and reduced hours and understaffing inconvenience students who rely on afternoon snacks and meals to get through long class days. The letter also states that reduced hours and understaffing put a strain on dining employees.

It includes eight demands, including returning to the Law School’s former dining schedule, scheduling dining staff and catering staff for eight-hour shifts instead of “split shifts,” and ensuring all dining and catering staff are notified of their schedules at least seven days ahead of shifts.

The Law School’s Labor and Employment Action Project organized the letter, which they began circulating among students last week.

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First-year Law Student Zachary P. Boullt said LEAP decided to write the letter after having conversations with the dining hall workers and learning about their working conditions.

“We had individual conversations with different workers at the time about the conditions and then based on that, we were motivated to get the letter together,” Boullt said.

Third-year law student and organizer Rachel Sandalow-Ash said dining employees’ descriptions of their work conditions were troubling and she believes the school owes them more respect.

“The fact that people weren't getting enough hours to support their families, that they were asked to work at a pace that was unsafe, the fact that dining workers were being harassed for taking sick days was all really troubling,” Sandalow-Ash said. “They've always stood with us so we wanted to stand with them.”

Restaurants Associates Senior Vice President of Creative Services Sam Souccar wrote in an emailed statement that the company is “committed” to employees and patrons of dining locations and noted that most of the dining employees are represented by local unions.

“While we have not had these issues raised in any formal process or forum, we are willing to meet with the union representatives and discuss any issue regarding the terms and conditions of employment for our employees at the HLS raised by the Union or our employees,” Souccar wrote.

“We will reserve further comment on these issues out of respect to the collective bargaining and grievance processes we are obligated to follow. We know that all parties are committed to ensuring that the students, faculty, and staff at HLS experience the optimal dining experience,” he added.

Harvard Law School spokesperson Jeff Neal wrote in an emailed statement that the Law School has several on-campus dining options available to students, including a cafe that reopened last fall. He also wrote that the Law School has contacted Restaurant Associates to ensure any possible employment issues are resolved.

“HLS values the work of everyone in our community and is committed to fostering the well-being of every person on our campus, including staff employed by outside contractors,” he wrote. “With that in mind, we have reached out to representatives of Restaurant Associates, the outside company that manages and employs the staff at all three existing campus dining facilities, to request information and to ensure that, if there are any employment issues between the two parties, those are appropriately addressed.”

Signees also referenced UNITE HERE Local 26 — the Boston-based labor union that represents dining employees — and asked them to work with Manning and Williams to implement the demands listed.

The union did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

In addition to individual students, three additional campus organizations signed onto the letter — La Alianza, Lambda at Harvard Law School, and the People’s Parity Project.

Lambda Co-President Matthew P. Shields said that while he cannot speak for the entire board, the organization has taken an interest in labor issues in recent years.

“We have supported ending mandatory arbitration clauses this year,” Shields said, describing efforts last year to end contracts that require employees to resolve workplace disputes with employers through an arbitration process, rather than through the courts. “We also voted to support and endorse the graduate students in [their] strike authorization vote. I think that this is just another reflection of where we stand in supporting labor rights.”

In addition to Lamba’s support, Shields said he personally signed the letter because he cares about Law School dining employees and because it brought his attention to the impact of last year’s changes beyond the student population.

“I knew exactly what's going on with the change of hours in terms of what that meant for students, but definitely not for workers,” he said.

—Michelle G. Kurilla can be reached at michelle.kurilla@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @MichelleKurilla.

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