Over 300 Harvard Law School students signed a recent public letter addressed to Law School Dean John F. Manning ’82 calling on him to re-institute longer hours at campus cafes, alongside other concerns. The letter also advocates for the alleviation of what it characterizes as chronic understaffing at those locations. In pursuit of these goals, the letter demands eight changes to accommodate students and relieve staff. These include returning to the former schedule, prioritizing eight-hour shifts instead of “split shifts,” and ensuring that dining hall staff are given at least a seven-day notice of their schedule.
We appreciate students who are committed to guaranteeing that everyone at Harvard be treated fairly. That includes dining hall workers who should not be subject to unfair labor practices. Law students should be commended for standing up for the labor rights of dining hall staff. More broadly, we think the activism on this issue can serve as a starting point for broader-based solidarity in our community. We are particularly hopeful on this point given that the letter, organized by the Law School’s Labor and Employment Action Project, was motivated in part by conversations between students and dining hall workers about the working conditions imposed on them.
It is this willingness to hear each others’ stories that is the bedrock for productive activism. Harvard affiliates who are not involved in budget-saving decisions at the University are often those whose work environments are made the most difficult by those decisions, as appears to be the case with the Law School dining hall workers. The best way to combat this marginalization in budgeting is for the marginalized to continue to articulate the real human costs that budget-cutting measures have, not just for them, but for others in similar positions across the University. This is just what LEAP’s letter has done, and it is an encouraging sign for the possibility of greater awareness and co-operation to secure better labor standards for Harvard’s workers.
This action should inspire others across the University to care about labor rights — especially those of the dining hall staff — on campus. We previously called on Harvard to index graduate student stipends to the cost of living in the greater Boston area, believing that failure to do so left graduate students on the hook for uncertainty in regards to inflation in housing and childcare costs. Harvard Graduate Students Union-United Automobile Workers must recognize the basic commonality between these two experiences, and should therefore follow their peers at the Law School in standing up for dining hall staff. Advocating for one does not take attention away from the other, or the host of concessions graduate students are seeking. In fact, the common thread between the two — that those left out of budgeting decisions get left behind by them — can advance both causes at once. To that end, the union should work to find ways of pursuing mutually beneficial change with the law students and dining hall workers.
This letter is an important first step towards a greater awareness amongst Harvard students for labor rights on our campus. We hope that increased cooperation going forward can provide for better treatment on behalf of the thousands of people — dining hall workers, custodial services, graduate students, and more — who make our University work every day.
This staff editorial solely represents the majority view of The Crimson Editorial Board. It is the product of discussions at regular Editorial Board meetings. In order to ensure the impartiality of our journalism, Crimson editors who choose to opine and vote at these meetings are not involved in the reporting of articles on similar topics.