May 4, 2001

Custodians At Harvard Show Unity In Protest

By DAVID ABEL, The Boston Globe

Demanding better pay, benefits, and job security, scores of janitors protested in front of Harvard Medical School yesterday morning to show their solidarity with the student-led "living wage" campaign that has consumed Harvard Yard over the past two weeks.

The custodians also vented their frustration with the medical school's decision this year to contract out more than 80 service jobs to a private company.

"Harvard has been dragging its feet on these issues for too long," said Joe Murphy, a custodian who has worked for Harvard for 25 years. "They are not treating us with the respect we deserve."

In a memo issued to faculty and students yesterday, Paul Levy, the medical school's executive dean of administration, said Harvard is sticking to its decision.

"We understand that change in employment status is difficult and that some workers prefer to remain within the university system," he wrote in an e-mail. "We value and respect the custodial staff assigned to this campus and hope that they will remain here, providing the same fine quality of service under different management."

In a related development, nearly 200 dining hall workers at Harvard unanimously voted on Wednesday night to authorize their negotiators to call a strike if needed during future contract talks with the university.

Since April 18, about 30 Harvard students have been occupying Massachusetts Hall, where President Neil L. Rudenstine works. They are demanding that Harvard pay all its employees at least $10.25 an hour, saying that more than 1,000 of them earn less than $10 an hour.