The living wage struggle at Harvard has taught us that students, workers, and the community, when they are united in action can make great strides in eliminating poverty at our university. While it has yet to be ratified by the membership, the agreement that Harvard and SEIU 254 have reached demonstrates the significant progress we have made over the past three years in achieving economic justice for all Harvard workers.
Despite this progress, this contract reflects little change in Harvard's fundamental lack of respect for its workers. Over the last ten years, Harvard has used the collective bargaining process to further its bottom line regardless of the human costs. Although the university has adopted new employment policies that are supposed to remedy this failure, the most recent contract negotiations have only continued the trend. Over the past five weeks, janitors repeatedly testified to Harvard's negotiating team that $11 per hour is not enough to make ends meet. Yet Harvard was remarkably unresponsive to these expressions of need. The little that Harvard did concede came only in response to immense community pressure in the form of direct action and civil disobedience. Each penny gained was fought for.
This contract provides further evidence that Harvard must take poverty off the negotiating table and commit to a permanent living wage standard in order to ensure that workers' basic human needs are met. In the meantime, workers and the community must continue to work together to restore wages to the levels of the early 1990s, let alone to what area universities pay today. As the contracts for university dining hall workers and security guards are reopened in the coming weeks, it is important for students to continue to act in solidarity with workers to counterbalance Harvard's exploitative power at the bargaining table.