April 25, 2001

Harvard students demand pay rise for workers

By Reuters

CAMBRIDGE - About 50 Harvard students, demanding wage increases for the elite university's lowest-paid workers, have extended their sit-in at the main administration building to a sixth day, buoyed by support from labour unions and some prominent politicians.

Massachusetts Democratic Senator John Kerry lent his support to the demonstrators, joining the state's senior senator, Democrat Edward Kennedy.

"The world's richest university is paying poverty wages," said Harvard senior Amy Offner as she handed out leaflets in front of the four-storey brick building that has been papered with posters calling for a living wage for the low-paid workers such as janitors. "There are more than 1000 workers who earn between $US6.50 and $US8.50 an hour [about $15 to $21] and don't have any benefits and can't afford to pay for them," she said.

The students want to see that figure raised to $10.25 an hour plus benefits. The school says there are only 400 or so workers at the lower pay scale.

The school, whose endowment was $US19.5 billion ($47.5 billion) as of June 2000, has declined to agree to the students' demands.

"We agree with the principle of a fair and dignified situation for the people who work at Harvard," said university spokesman Joe Wrinn, "but not with the one to change the wage scale."

He said that Harvard's benefits and pay scales were either at or above the industry standard.

"We think the best way to handle this is to do what Harvard does best and provide free education for these people with ESL [English as a second language] classes," he said. "That's a better way to get people to a higher pay."

The protesting students, who pay about $US30,000 an academic year to attend Harvard, said they had been able to keep up with their studies.

"We're not missing classes," said Miranda Richmond, 19, who has her laptop and cellphone with her. "We're all keeping up with our classes by e-mail."