May 18, 2001

Harvard dining hall workers approve contract that puts most above "living wage"

By THEO EMERY, Associated Press Writer

BOSTON -- Harvard University dining hall workers have ratified a five-year contract that pays almost all employees in the bargaining unit more than the $10.25 per hour "living wage" that students championed during a three-week sit-in.

The contract between the university and about 500 members of Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees International Union Local 26 was voted on Thursday night. Ninety-eight percent of the workers voted to adopt the contract, said Local 26 president Janice Loux.

Loux called the agreement a "very rich contract."

"Our feeling is that it's a great victory. It's the best contract we've negotiated in the history of Harvard dining services," Loux said.

Loux said the student occupation, which began April 18, as well as support from elected officials and clergy, swayed the collective bargaining process in workers' favor.

"While Local 26 is a hard and tough and fighting union, our efforts are only made stronger by that kind of coalition," Loux said. "Harvard understands that, and understood that throughout the collective bargaining process."

The protesters occupied Harvard president Neil L. Rudenstine's office building for 21 days, demanding that the Ivy League school pay all its employees a minimum hourly wage of $10.25.

Harvard spokesman Joe Wrinn said the dining hall workers' contract was "business as usual," and was not connected to the student occupation of Massachusetts Hall that ended May 8.

"The conversations have been going on for several weeks. Though there's a natural connection to be drawn (to the student occupation), there isn't an actual one," Wrinn said.

"We use the collective bargaining process to establish wages. We continue to think we're a fair employer and progressive in what we do."

The agreement does not affect all the university's blue collar employees. Contracts for clerical workers and janitors expire later this year.

Out of the entire bargaining unit of dining hall employees, only eight workers who work at "cash operations" dining halls and have worked at the school less than a year will make below $10.25 an hour when the contract takes effect in June, Loux said.

Ben McKean, 20, a Harvard junior and a member of the Student Progressive Labor Movement which spearheaded the protest, said it's "terrific" that Local 26 was happy with the contract.

But he said he was "disappointed" that the living wage was not the contract's bottom line.

"I can't imagine that the university's refusal to pay eight workers a living wage is anything but stubborn pride on their part," he said. "It's a sort of desire to save face that doesn't fool anyone."