WHAT IS A LIVING WAGE?
The idea behind a living wage is that people who work in our community should be able to live decently and raise their families here. This requires a wage and benefits package that takes into account the area-specific cost of living, as well as the basic expenses involved in supporting a family.
Although living wage standards do, by definition, vary by region, they are all considerably higher than the federal minimum wage. This is because the minimum wage does not begin to meet the needs of working people or families anywhere in the country: in fact, it puts a parent with one child below the federal poverty line. A living wage aims to correct this by establishing, at a local level, a more reasonable minimum wage. Like many municipal standards in place around the country, our living wage standard also combines this wage standard with benefits.
WHAT DOES IT COST TO LIVE IN CAMBRIDGE?
Studies of the local cost of living, such as those conducted by the Economic Policy Institute and
Wider Opportunities for Women, suggest a living wage standard of at least $12 per hour plus benefits.
Moreover, the National Low-Income Housing Commission estimates that a wage of over $15 per hour is needed
to afford a two-bedroom apartment in the Boston area. To our knowledge, no study of the local cost of
living supports a wage less than $11.11 per hour, the wage standard set by the Cambridge living wage
ordinance in 1999.
WHAT DOES HARVARD PAY NOW?
In the absence of a living wage policy, Harvard’s wages vary tremendously. While Harvard’s fund
managers are paid as much as $10 million per year, an increasing number of campus workers are paid wages
that are grossly inadequate. For instance, according to data released by the university itself, the
median wage for directly-hired janitors is now just $9.55 per hour-an astonishing 10% cut in real wages
compared to 1998. Moreover, the median wage for the guards who protect Harvard's invaluable art museums
is now $8.96 per hour, and some subcontracted dining hall workers earn barely above $6.75 per hour, the
state minimum wage. For a full-time worker taking no vacations, a $10 hourly wage yields a yearly income
of just $20,000-making the worker poor enough to qualify for almost $1,000 in food stamps. Because
Harvard pays so little, hundreds of employees are forced to work two and even three jobs—as many as 80
hours per week—and still struggle to support their families.
HOW MANY WORKERS ON CAMPUS ARE MAKING LESS THAN A LIVING WAGE?
According to data just released by the university, well over 1000 Harvard workers earn less than
$10.68 per hour, and well over 1400 earn less than $12 per hour. These workers fall into three
Directly-hired, unionized "regular" employees. As of March, 2001, Harvard paid 424
directly-hired "regular" employees less than $10.68 per hour; in comparison, only 170 employees earned an
inflation adjusted wage of less than $10.68 per hour in 1994.
Casual employees. Casual employees work at Harvard part-time and on a temporary basis;
although they are directly-hired, they are ineligible for union membership, typically receive no
benefits, enjoy no job security, and are often inadequately paid. As of March, 1999, approximately 650
casual employees earned less than $10 per hour (then the Cambridge living wage standard).
Subcontracted employees. Harvard establishes contracts with nearly 9000 firms annually, and
maintains ongoing relationships with roughly 180 firms. Like casual workers, subcontracted employees are
vulnerable to numerous forms of exploitation. As of March 2001, 579 of these on-campus workers earned
below $10.68 per hour.
WHO'S WORKING THESE LOW-PAYING JOBS?
The overwhelming majority of low paid, directly hired Harvard employees are people of color, primarily
African-American and Latino, while the majority of higher paid clerical and administrative employees are
white. Harvard's poverty wage policy smacks of institutional racism, because people of color are
disproportionately affected by Harvard's poverty wages, while being disproportionately under-represented
in the faculty and in the administration.
IF CAMBRIDGE IS SO EXPENSIVE, WHY DON'T THE WORKERS MOVE ELSEWHERE OR GET A DIFFERENT JOB
CLOSER TO WHERE THEY LIVE?
In fact, many workers at Harvard University do live elsewhere, in East Boston or Roxbury, but some
live as far away as New Bedford or Fall River. In some cases, a Harvard worker will spend a total of 4
hours commuting to and from work each day, because it's impossible to afford to live any closer.
Best case scenario: a worker finds a better-paying job, or a job closer to home. The jobs at Harvard
don't go away. Harvard will still hire janitors and restaurant workers and guards and pay them wages that
leave them in poverty.
CAN HARVARD AFFORD TO PAY A LIVING WAGE?
Yes. Last May, in the Arco Forum at the Kennedy School, Polly Price, Associate Vice President for
Human Resources said, "The issue has never been about money. Harvard could do this...in a heartbeat." By
very liberal estimates, it would cost Harvard just one-half of one percent of the university's annual
budget. Looked at another way, it is less than one-half of one percent of the annual interest on
Harvard's endowment. Looked at still another way, it's millions of dollars less than Harvard paid a
single endowment fund manager in the year 2000.
IF HARVARD IMPLEMENTS A LIVING WAGE, WILL WORKERS BE FIRED?
There is no reason to think so. To begin with, the jobs that underpaid workers perform on this campus
are ones that need to be done: delivering mail, cooking, working in libraries, building, cleaning, and so
on. Harvard can not fire these workers without seriously impairing its own ability to function. Unlike a
fast food chain, which has substantial freedom to downsize and close individual branches, Harvard can not
simply eliminate the Biology department, close down Adams house, or cut off the meal plan.
Moreover, as mentioned above, Harvard can easily bear the added costs of a living wage. Just as
Harvard can choose to implement wage increases, it can simply choose not to fire workers in the process.
Finally, it should be noted that Harvard has in the past proven that it can dramatically increase
wages without laying people off. Since its establishment in 1988, the Harvard Union of Clerical and
Technical Workers has won a 77% increase in its members' wages. No one has been fired.