April 26, 2001

Students win labor backing for sit-in over worker pay

By MARIE SZANISZLO, The Boston Herald

Labor leaders yesterday joined a growing list of people backing Harvard students as they entered the second week of a sit-in to demand a "living wage" for university employees.

At a noon rally in Harvard Yard, the secretary-treasurer of the Massachusetts AFL-CIO called on the university to raise the salaries of its janitors, kitchen workers and other employees.

"It's unfathomable . . . how one of the wealthiest universities in the world would oppose an initiative to pay workers at the low end of the wage scale enough money to be able to live in the same city that they work in," said Kathleen Casavant. "These workers are not asking for stock options and corporate bonuses; they are asking for a living wage."

The AFL-CIO represents 400,000 Bay State workers and is the latest group to lend its support to students lobbying on behalf of the more than 1,000 employees they say earn less than the $ 10.25 per hour the city of Cambridge deemed a " living wage" for its employees in a 1999 ordinance.

On Tuesday, the City Council voted unanimously to support the principle of the protest, and Sen. Edward M. Kennedy urged Harvard President Neil Rudenstine to negotiate with some 40 students who have been holed up since last Wednesday in the building that houses the president's office.

Kennedy spokesman Will Keyser yesterday said the senator, a Harvard alumnus, would continue to monitor the protest. But Keyser could not say whether Kennedy would mediate the dispute, adding "I can't rule anything in or out."

Harvard spokesman Joe Wrinn said a university committee found Harvard wages were at or above industry standards, and the administration believes the best way to help people in low-paying jobs is through the free English as a second language, high school equivalency and computer courses Harvard already offers.