October 23, 2001

Study: Harvard custodians are making less

By The Associated Press

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. - Harvard became a significantly wealthier institution in the 1990s, but pay for its lowest paid workers - custodians and security guards - lagged below inflation, according to a new Harvard study.

When the impact of inflation is considered, about 82 percent of janitors earn less than $10 an hour, compared with 20 percent in 1994. Among security guards, 58 percent get less than $10 per hour, up from 19 percent.

The workers make up a small percentage of Harvard's payroll, but the wages of the lowest paid workers has been a divisive issue on campus. Last spring, 30 students occupied former president Neil Rudenstine's office last spring to demand a "living wage" of at least $10.50 an hour for school employees.

Rudenstine appointed a committee to recommend whether Harvard should accept the demand, and Monday it released a portion of its work so far. The committee held a public forum last night.

Before the forum, one of the panel's 20 members resigned, saying her colleagues were biased toward the student protesters. In a letter to the Harvard Crimson, the school's newspaper, economics professor Caroline Hoxby said the committee hasn't heard testimony from opponents of a living wage.

"I believe the committee has neither the process nor the principle to fulfill its duties," Hoxby wrote. "I am ashamed to admit that my university does not currently have an atmosphere that fosters the free exchange of ideas on this topic."

Committee chairman Lawrence Katz, an economics professor, told the Boston Herald the panel "has gone tremendously out of its way to provide outreach, to let all members of the community with different viewpoints present themselves."

Most speakers at the forum supported raising the living wage, The Boston Globe reported. Economic professor Richard Freeman said the bottom-line issue for him is that the university, with its $18 billion endowment, can afford to raise salaries.

"We're not adding zeros onto salaries here. We would be adding dollars to wages," he said. "We are a leader in so many ways - why not this?"

Student Graham O'Donohue, the one scheduled speaker who criticized the idea of a minimum wage, said students' emotionally moving appeals for better pay should not dictate Harvard's compensation policies.

Last spring, 1,003 workers at Harvard earned less than the $10.50-per-hour "living wage." Of the 1,003, Harvard directly employs 424, about 3 percent of its 14,352-member work force. The others work for contractors in the custodial, dining and security services.

Adjusted for inflation, the median hourly pay of custodial employees was $ 10.96 in 1994, but $9.55 this year. For security and parking guards, it went from $14.31 to $9.58.