According to its mission statement, Harvard Student Agencies, which operates The Harvard Shop, among other businesses, is designed in large part “to defray the expenses of [student employees’] education.” In the wake of shocking and disappointing revelations that managers at The Harvard Shop did not correctly follow labor laws with regard to paying employees in a timely manner for nearly three years — and was thus ordered to pay back nearly $47,000 in unpaid wages to employees by the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office — it appears HSA has failed and directly contradicted its noble goals in this instance.
In response to this issue, former HSA President Ali Dastjerdi ’19 claimed that the complaint was a comparatively “small” deal in the context of the broader company. We strongly disagree. The amount HSA was ordered to compensate students in back-pay was over a tenth of their expenditures on wages and salaries in fiscal year 2017, according to publically available figures. While we believe HSA’s efforts to retroactively compensate their employees so far constitute the legal bare minimum, the organization must do a better job of looking out for and proactively defending its workers.
After all, HSA is a non-profit business that claims to help its student workers in its mission statement, not cheat them out of their earned wages. Moreover, as HSA proudly vaunts their “student-run” status, they should especially empathize with its student workers, and look out for those whose labor is not only an invaluable contribution to their collective endeavor, but who work because of financial need.
Some significant degree of responsibility for these violations of legal and ethical standards must be placed on HSA’s permanent employees and board of directors. Given their role in guiding student managers at HSA, they should be expected to keep up with labor laws and other relevant policies pertaining to workers. It is inexcusable that these officials were unaware of an existing law for more than two years. That said, an organization which prides itself as much as HSA does on its long-held independence and student-run management should hold its student leadership accountable for all of the practices and nuances of running a business, not least fairly and legally paying its employees. The fact that the labor law, which requires employers to pay a premium to Sunday and holiday hourly workers, was not followed for nearly three years, only adds to this disastrous turn of events.
Recognizing that student organizations by their very nature have regular turnover, we urge HSA to think more critically about how they train new leadership and employees about laws and regulations that apply to their businesses, as well as ethics. To that end, we hope that the internal auditing process that HSA undertook to discover payroll discrepancies does not stop with The Harvard Shop, and continues to its other businesses that are responsible for paying student workers to ensure that the organization is not only upholding its stated mission but also the law.
Ultimately, The Harvard Shop’s incompetence reflects poorly not only on HSA’s part, but on all of Harvard’s independent student organizations. Making up for this loss of reputation, as well as making amends to those students who were wronged, will take serious institutional work and understanding across the company.
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.