February 1, 2002

Harvard Agrees To Raise Wages Of Lowest Paid

President's Move Is Aimed At Solving High-Profile Issue

By PAMELA FERDINAND, The Washington Post

BOSTON, Jan. 31 -- Harvard University President Lawrence H. Summers today adopted new labor policies that would raise wages for the lowest-paid workers at the nation's wealthiest university.

Summers's endorsement of one-time wage increases and a so-called "parity wage and benefits" system, as recommended by a university committee in December, attempts to quell the high-profile controversy that the former treasury secretary inherited from his predecessor, Neil Rudenstine. Student protesters demanding better salaries for the workers occupied Rudenstine's office last spring for three weeks, and attracted support ranging from celebrities such as Ben Affleck to public officials such as former labor secretary Robert Reich, who is running for governor of Massachusetts.

Under the new wage policy, which requires the renegotiation of existing collective bargaining agreements, the pay of hundreds of janitors, security and parking workers and dining service employees would be increased to between $10.83 and $11.30 an hour, exceeding the $10.50 determined to be a "living wage" by the city of Cambridge. Outside contractors also would be required to pay their workers wages and benefits that are "substantially equivalent" to Harvard's unionized counterparts. The policy change follows committee findings that university wages were depressed by outside contractors.

"It is important to recognize that all who work at Harvard, regardless of rank or position, contribute in vital ways to the teaching and research mission of this great University," Summers said in a statement. "It is essential that our employment policies and practices reflect this principle."

While the proposal goes quite far in terms of improving worker conditions, it fails on other counts, student activists said. According to Harvard data, janitors at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Boston University and Wellesley College earn well above $14 an hour, plus benefits.

"In a more ideal world, it would require a minimum wage floor and a serious advancement on the affordability of benefits," said Emma Mackinnon, 18, a freshman member of Harvard's Living Wage Campaign, which plans a rally Saturday.

Summers, however, concluded wages would be protected by collective bargaining and the parity wage and benefits policy, due to be completed by March 31. He also announced the creation of committees to develop a training program for employee supervisors and to prepare annual data reports on Harvard's lower-wage workers.

The increased compensation packages could cost "several million dollars," and individual schools and departments must decide how to adjust their budgets accordingly, said university spokesman Joe Wrinn.