December 19, 2001

Harvard commission recommends pay hikes for low-wage workers, but rejects living wage

By KEN MAGUIRE, The Associated Press

BOSTON -- A Harvard University commission set up in response to student protests has proposed substantial pay hikes for low-wage campus workers.

The commission recommended that President Lawrence H. Summers dip into the school's $18 billion endowment to fund a $3 million "parity wage" increase in benefits and pay.

Custodians, security and dining hall employees should be immediately paid between $10.83 and $11.30 per hour, the commission said in its report released Wednesday. Custodial employees now make $9.55, while security and parking guards make $9.58.

Last spring, 30 students occupied then-president Neil Rudenstine's office for three weeks, demanding a "living wage" for employees. The commission, composed of faculty, administrators, students and workers, was formed in response to the protests.

Lawrence Katz, commission chairman and a professor in the economics department, said the proposals will be more beneficial for workers than the "living wage" sought by the protesters.

"We believe the right solution is to fix the system, not gut the system," Katz said Tuesday in a conference call with reporters.

The living wage plan would have barred the university from using outside companies - outsourcing - to do the work that Harvard employees can do. Wages would increase as union contracts are renegotiated.

The committee's "parity wage" proposal doesn't bar outsourcing, but provides disincentives by mandating that Harvard pay contractors the same hourly rates that in-house union workers receive.

Rudenstine had pledged to reopen collective bargaining talks with unions within four weeks of the release of the report, Katz said. That responsibility now falls to Summers.

"I would hope that the president takes these recommendations very seriously," Katz said.

Summers offered no promises, but said he'll implement "appropriate measures" after a month of public comment and deliberation.

The 100-page report has not satisfied the Harvard Living Wage Campaign, which organized last spring's sit-in. The group planned to protest in Harvard Yard, and at the Harvard Clubs in New York and San Francisco.

"Without a living wage, the committee's proposal of a parity wage is still a poverty wage," said student Madeleine Elfenbein, a member of the protesting group.

As of September, Harvard employed 14,500 workers. About 390 workers - custodians, security and dining hall personnel - are the subject of the wage dispute, earning less than the City of Cambridge's living wage of $10.68 per hour. An additional 579 employees of service contractors at Harvard also earn less than that.