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Harvard’s Striking Dining Hall Workers Received Support From Students, Professors

Earlier this month, nine Harvard University dining hall workers and two union officials were arrested after participating in a Harvard Square sit-in. Workers at Harvard University hadn’t staged a strike in 33 years, but stalled contract negotiations centering around wages and healthcare costs motivated staff members toward “a more dramatic action to get the attention of decision makers,” union spokeswoman Tiffany Ten Eyck told The Boston Globe.
harvard strike
Image Credit: timsackton/Flickr

And, just as the protesters had hoped, their actions did help to spread their message. Since then, the community at large has responded, as students, professors, and others have demonstrated their own investment in the cause. Let’s take a closer look at a few ways the community has offered their support.

  • On the 13th day of the strike, Monday of last week, hundreds of students began to fill Harvard Yard in an effort to demonstrate their solidarity with Unite Here Local 26, which is the Boston chapter of a national union of hotel and food service workers.
  • 150 of Harvard’s faculty members signed a petition in support of the workers’ demands for lower healthcare costs and a minimum base income of $35,000 a year for dining service workers.

Harvard “is the richest university in the world,” Tim McCarthy, who cut his lecture on American protest literature short so that students had could attend the protest, told Slate. “It has an endowment of $35-plus billion, and has raised $7 billion and counting in its most recent capital campaign, and yet Harvard is failing to provide a livable existence for its lowest-paid and hardest-working employees.”

  • Around half of Harvard’s 3,000 member student body signed a petition in favor of the workers.
  • Harvard Medical School students took it upon themselves to analyze the healthcare plan being offered by the university. They noted increases and bumps in costs, finding that the plan would actually leave the food service workers in worse shape than if they didn’t have insurance through their work at all and instead participated in the Massachusetts’s Healthcare Exchange program.
  • Yesterday, about 100 students walked out of classes and staged a sit-in at the location where negotiations between the union and the administration were being held. Organizers of this protest, the Harvard Student Labor Action Movement (SLAM) told The Boston Globe that they intended to occupy the lobby until 5 p.m., but as talks continued, so did the sit-in.
  • Harvard University officials announced this morning that a tentative agreement has been reached. Workers are expected to vote on the terms on Wednesday, terms which have yet to be announced publicly.

This story is ongoing, but it’s heartening to know that so many of Harvard’s students, many of whom will likely continue on to positions of prominence in a variety of fields, not only have an understanding of the importance of facing issues surrounding income inequality, but they are also willing to act. It’s a good sign for the future, and the benefits of these actions could extend well beyond the Harvard community.

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