May 9, 2001
By CAREY GOLDBERG, The New York Times
CAMBRIDGE, Mass., May 8 -- Bathed in cheers and blinking in the unaccustomed sunlight, 26 student protesters emerged today from a Harvard University administration building where they had staged a three-week sit-in to demand a "living wage" for the university's lowest-paid workers.
Harvard did not agree to give them exactly what they had sought: an immediate $10.25 minimum wage for all workers.
But, the protesters said, the university agreed to reopen a subject it had called closed, announcing that a committee of faculty members, workers, officials and students would re-examine university wage policies.
Harvard also promised that until that committee reached its conclusions, the university would stop giving custodial and dining service work to outside subcontractors.
It also agreed to an early renegotiation of its contract with its custodians' union, which could allow a wage increase retroactive to May 1. And it agreed to re-examine the health insurance co-payment for its lowest-paid workers.
Out of 13,000 Harvard employees, about 400 workers, mainly janitors, dining hall workers and security guards, earn less than $10.25 an hour; several hundred temporary workers for subcontractors also are paid less than that.
Several hundred protesters proclaimed victory today at a rally in Harvard Yard outside Massachusetts Hall, where the sit-in had been staged mainly in the corridor outside the office of Harvard's president, Neil L. Rudenstine.
"You are the moral conscience of the university," Bob Haynes, president of the Massachusetts A.F.L.-C.I.O., told the crowd. "I hope my kids grow up to be just like you."
Harvard officials also expressed satisfaction with the outcome.
"I think everybody comes out of this with something," Paul Grogan, a university spokesman, said.
"We have not agreed to a 'living wage,' " Mr. Grogan said, and the university had ended the sit-in without the use of force. "There was a lot of forbearance, and that could have been different, and one hopes that is recognized."
Asked if the students who occupied the building would be punished, Mr. Grogan said that was up to the administrators and faculties of the schools in which they were enrolled.
More than 400 faculty members signed a letter supporting the protesters, who were also endorsed by Massachusetts' two United States senators and an array of local politicians and labor leaders.
Organized labor played an important role. It had helped some students learn to organize sit-ins, and then acted as a go-between with the students and the administration.
The Harvard protest was part of a national "living wage" campaign by student groups and unions. Some students at other universities said they were watching the Harvard sit-in to see whether it was worth emulating.
As the protesters left Massachusetts Hall today, ending what is believed to have been the longest sit-in in a Harvard building, supporters presented each with a red rose.
Inside, the office workers and administrators who had played host to the protesters drank Champagne. And the hall where the students sat for weeks looked immaculate except for a couple of garbage bags.
"They even vacuumed," the university police chief, Francis D. Riley, said of the protesters.