In our view, the Final Report on Lower-Paid Workers at Harvard University represents very important progress towards a humane, just, and dignified Harvard workplace, but does not go far enough. While no one should doubt that the immediate adoption and transparent implementation of the HCECP's Final Report would result in significant improvements in the lives of workers at Harvard, we believe that President Summers should do more and adopt a living wage floor that adjusts to the rising cost of living in the Boston area, as well as card-check neutrality protection of the right to organize unions and more transparent and inclusive implementation and enforcement mechanisms.
We do not want to underestimate the progress made here. The HCECP set an important precedent simply by convening faculty and administrators with workers and students, and we strongly believe that the University should continue to include workers and students in University committees. Moreover, though the process was not as open as we desired, it did set a new standard for University committees: by attending a Workers Forum, soliciting input from the broader community through letters, releasing data during the process, and including its meeting schedule as an appendix, the HCECP has set a standard any future University committee must meet -- and should exceed.
Moreover, the data collected and released by the HCECP legitimates the voices raised in protest over the past years. Wages have fallen even more sharply than the pessimists among us expected: now, no one can doubt that "The inflation-adjusted pay for Harvard custodians, security workers, and parking attendants fell by 10-15%" (p. 24) from already low wages, at a time when the University experienced unprecedented prosperity. We regard it as a breakthrough that Harvard has overcome years of denial to finally recognize that it "used outsourcing to put downward pressure on wages and sometimes to weaken the collective bargaining process" (p. 36), and we can only hope it now swears off this habit. The HCECPís somewhat tentative words ought to inaugurate a sea change here, shifting the burden of proof from those who fight to keep workers in house to those who seek to erect further barriers between community members by outsourcing; ultimately, we hope this tide will ban outsourcing outright. We believe that every managerial mind on campus should take note of the HCECP's important affirmation of the fact that "on-campus employees of service contractors are members of the Harvard community and play a key role in Harvardís mission" (p. 34).
We also believe that the HCECP has made a significant positive contribution to the Harvard community by bringing attention to the quality of work life on campus. To recognize the difference between stated policy and workersí experience, to recognize supervisor abuse, to recognize the general absence of respect, to recognize the manipulation of hours and the refusal to pay legally owed overtime, to recognize problems with release time for education ó in short, to recognize the everyday experiences of service-sector workers ought to be commonplace, but at Harvard, this recognition is extraordinary. These experiences, and the fact that recognition of them is exceptional, are especially disheartening because, as the report notes, service-sector workers find tremendous pride associated with working at Harvard; these workers want the absolute best for Harvard and its community, and in return they have been ignored and often abused. Recognition of the experiences of these workers is long overdue, and we regret that the full report does not convey the texture of these workersí lives as they reported it to us: the multiple part-time jobs; the endless commutes from barely affordable housing more than an hour from work; the debilitating effect of an 80 hour work week on the family; the fear and intimidation that suffuses the workplace; the instability of forcing to make ends meet while being unable to afford basic things like medical treatment; the forced daily reminders of invisibility.
In addition to expressing our views about the process and the findings of fact, we would be remiss in our duties to the least well-off among us to not fully endorse the valuable and meaningful measures that our committee today recommends, measures that seek to improve the circumstances of these low paid service workers without whose commitment and hard work Harvard could not function. The HCECP addressed the concerns of many workers in recommending that Harvard and unions "ensure that existing part-time workers be given the option of converting to full-time work when additional work becomes available" (p. 44), though we would have strongly preferred a firmer mandate and a clear oversight mechanism. And the HCECP has rendered a real and important service to the entire Harvard community by including in its recommendations a range of wages which workers should be brought up to; while we would have preferred for this range to be higher, the specification of a minimum is nonetheless important for the expectation that is set and the clear standards the reopened contracts will be judged by -- by workers, by students, by faculty members, and by the community at large. Given the studies that the HCECP reviewed on the cost of living as well as the historical data about wages at Harvard, we believe that a return to the real wages of the early 1990s would have been a reasonable and appropriate recommendation. In real terms, an entry-level, full-time FMO custodian earned roughly $12 an hour in 1992, while a senior custodian earned roughly $14 an hour; today, both newly-hired and senior full-time custodians earn $9.65 an hour. The median real wage for uniformed security guards in 1994 was $14.31 an hour, while the mean wage for outsourced uniformed security guards today is $10.82 an hour. In addition, we support the elimination of the two-tier wage system in dining services. In thinking about wages, we found it useful to consider the "Basic Family Budgets" prepared by the Economic Policy Institute for the Boston area, which indicate that two adults working full-time to support one child must each receive $11.67 an hour, while two adults working full-time to support two children must each $13.47 an hour to make ends meet. And 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.
We also recognize and endorse parity as an essential component of these recommendations, though we prefer a ban on outsourcing entirely; we believe that the stated justifications for outsourcing, such as flexibility and improving quality, are rarely the actual reasons, and that when those are the reasons, outsourcing is rarely the appropriate response. With outsourcing -- even when the economic incentive to outsource has been removed or diminished, as with parity -- Harvard loses the essential ability to oversee the campus workforce, to ensure compliance with its own regulations, and to guarantee dignified and respectful treatment. But, for all that, we strongly believe that parity represents an enormous improvement from the status quo, and urge its immediate implementation. We strongly endorse the HCECPís recommendation that the University commit itself to a clear successorship policy: workers, whether directly employed or subcontracted, should be assured that they will retain their jobs if Harvard outsources their job or switches contractors; such changes are never the fault of the low-wage workers themselves, but of management, and the workers should not be punished for management's failures. Further, we believe that the HCECP closes an absolutely crucial loophole by recommending that "the parity wage will be adjusted upward annually by the rate of increase of the U.S. consumer price index" (p. 40) in the event of union workers going one year without a collectively bargained contract. This is an absolutely necessary disincentive to union-busting, and to adopt these wage corrections and parity policy recommendations without adopting this would significantly undermine the short-term credibility and long-term tenability of these gains, as well as give the lie to claims about respect for the collective bargaining process.
Ultimately, it is the HCECP's considerable successes that make its failures so important, and so disappointing. Perhaps the starkest example of this is that the HCECP set a new standard for Harvard by accepting the input of the community -- and received more than 1,000 responses, suggesting a real thirst to participate -- making it all the more disappointing that the HCECP did not heed the very voices it solicited. The report notes, "The vast majority of responses supported a uniform minimum wage or living wage for the University and encouraged a ban or further limits on the outsourcing of on-campus service work" (p. 5); this separate statement would not exist if those responses had been heeded.
We believe that the final report and recommendations of the HCECP falls short of the mark because it fails to fully acknowledge the impetus behind living wage campaigns: some wages and working conditions are simply unacceptable. We do not prohibit child labor on campus because we believe that "Harvard has an obligation to be a good employer to fulfill its teaching and research missions" (p. 34); it is simply something that we believe would be wrong for Harvard to do -- not because of some higher or prior obligation the University has to teaching or to research or to the preservation of its endowment, but wrong of itself. Similarly, we concur that "Harvard's pursuit of excellence in teaching and research requires compensation and other employment practices that attract, retain, and motivate employees to facilitate and undertake these activities" (p. 33), but we also believe that Harvard has an obligation to pay "compensation levels that significantly contribute to ensuring that Harvardís workers and their families enjoy at least a minimally decent standard of living" (p. 34) of itself. The report does not go that far, but it does recognize that wages must be at "levels consistent with Harvardís obligation to be a good employer" (p. 36), and this affirmation that good employers do not pay bad wages is an important step.
It is not only for the sake of moral leadership that Harvard should go beyond this reportís recommendations and adopt a wage floor as well as parity. We believe that the combination of parity and a floor is the best guarantee of real wage protection for workers in the long term. These recommendations wisely attempt to eliminate the economic incentive to use outsourcing to depress the real wages of workers, but we have not been convinced that there are no other practices that might be used to that same end. We are concerned, for instance, that new job categories might be created which would lower the real wages of workers, as happened in the food service sector. We worry about wage erosion because it is entirely predictable: given the history the Committeeís findings of fact amply document, we believe prudence and honesty require us to remain concerned that the University may, in the future, choose to exact real wage concessions from workers at the bargaining table. Consequently, we remain convinced that the only way to ensure that wages will keep pace with the cost of living is to adopt a living wage policy stating that the University will ensure that they do. Without such an explicit guarantee, it is possible that our community will find itself again mired in poverty wages five or ten years from now. We appreciate the arguments offered that explain why a wage floor without parity would be an inappropriate mechanism to protect low-wage workers at Harvard, but we feel that no serious objections remained against our proposal that parity be accompanied by a living wage floor as a future backstop. We believe that, with both a living wage floor and parity, the concern that the floor might become a "ceiling" lost what force it had when considering a wage floor in a vacuum. Similarly, the concern with selecting an ideal number speaks only to the difficulty, and not to the possibility, of creating a living wage floor, and in this sense we find this criticism to be misplaced. Given the range of thoughtfully-derived numbers, such as those offered by the Economic Policy Institute and the National Low-Income Housing Commission, there was no absence of effective starting points for such a discussion.
The HCECP valorizes the collective bargaining process, and rightly so; but some things we do not bargain over. We do not bargain collectively over human rights such as child labor, and here we recall that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights says, "Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and his family." If a Harvard employee cannot secure this right despite working 60 hours or more each week, something is desperately wrong. In this respect, we find it ironic that the report frequently cites respect for the collective bargaining process, but fails to enshrine the central victory of the American labor movement: a guarantee, through decent wages and working conditions, of something like a 40 hour week, or at least of a weekend. But that is a dream for most of Harvardís low-wage workers. To us, a living wage is an acknowledgment of low-wage workersí rights, capacities, and inherent dignity as full and equal human beings; it is a promise that the University will not try to bargain wages that immiserate workers and, through the daily pressing necessities of poverty, extinguish their dignity and humanity. It is possible -- although we do not regard it as probable -- that the total implementation of the HCECP report will result in the same substantive compensation-related outcomes as would the adoption of a parity wage with a living wage backstop; the absolutely essential recommendation that wages keep pace with the cost of living in the event of labor dispute goes some way to indicating that. However, we strongly believe that the value of a moral commitment by the University to workers is literally incalculable. Such an exemplary pledge would befit Harvardís role as a global leader, and we urge President Summers to act. Harvard does not try to be anything less than the best in so many areas; why are we content to be inferior with regard to our treatment of the people who work here?
But if we are disappointed by the absence of a living wage from the HCECPís recommendations, we are baffled by the anemic measures recommended to protect the right of workers on campus to organize a union. In spite of voluminous evidence that workers trying to form unions do not receive adequate protection from the law, there is no card-check/neutrality provision in the recommendations; such a provision requires that the employers remain neutral when its employees organize a union, and that the employer recognize the union and begin bargaining collectively when a majority of workers has signed cards saying that they want to unionize (see Appendix H). Well-respected sources -- including Human Rights Watch and the federal commission chaired by senior advisor to the HCECP Prof. John Dunlop under President Clinton -- all agree that (1) the balance of power during an organizing effort in United States is extremely one sided towards employers; (2) the right of free association and free speech are routinely violated due to the lengthy NLRB election process; (3) the particular institutions of a pledge to neutrality and card check elections makes the process considerably fairer. The "Dunlop Report" itself says explicitly, "We encourage employers and unions who desire a cooperative relationship to agree to determine the employees' majority preference via a 'card check.' Card check agreements build trust between union and employer and avoid expending public and private resources on unnecessary election campaigns. Such agreements are a classic example of potential or former adversaries creating a win-win situation for themselves."
Yet there is resistance among a minority in the committee to make any substantive recommendations on this issue. Their resistance is justified in the name of the "robust exchange of ideas." We find this deeply disturbing. We think that it is intimidation, not a "robust exchange of ideas," when supervisors pull aside individual workers and offer veiled threats and bribes related to their participation in the organizing drive. How can the report conclude that "unions can and should provide an effective vehicle to provide Harvardís service workers with voice at the work place" (p. 35) and preserve the "right" of the University to use the same anti-union tactics that forced our clerical workers to spend seventeen years fighting for a union and "voice at the work place" (p. 35)? In what sense are all workers at Harvard "entitled to the highest levels of freedom of expression consistent with the Universityís goal of being a beacon of intellectual inquiry and learning" (p. 35) if supervisors are not forbidden from forcing workers to attend meetings where they are intimated and threatened to prevent them from supporting a union? A report that so comprehensively relies on collective bargaining should be equally committed to ensuring the foundational respect for unions necessary for them to become parties to collective bargaining.
Absent a card-check neutrality pledge, Sodexho workers at Kennedy and Law Schools may well be writing off their legal right of free association, since they are working for a contractor who has repeatedly demonstrated a knack for denying workers their right to organize. This was most clearly articulated by the courageous Sodexho employee who actually spoke up during the Workers Forum to tell us how managers deal with employees who speak to students about working conditions -- never mind speaking to union organizers. We have not seen any convincing arguments against leveling the playing field for workers to organize themselves and bargain collectively. While the report does say that "On-campus workers should not be subject to intimidation, coercion, retaliation, or other unlawful practices" (p. 58), we hoped that, at the least, the report would specify some of the most egregious practices that we find unacceptable, such as coercive captive audience meetings and the use of anti-union consultants. We cannot think of any reason the University would not enter into a card-check neutrality agreement that explicitly prohibits such practices unless it believes that the coercive anti-union tactics used during the clerical workers organizing are legal and acceptable, and wishes to use them in the future, if our graduate students or others choose to organize.
Three other, equally pressing issues that now confront the President are health insurance, backpay for contracted janitors, and the implementation of these recommendations. In the case of health insurance, the HCECP report has not gone much past the Mills Report in making concrete recommendations for parity and affordability. Parity to Harvardís plan is modified by "industry standards" as a benchmark, with neither concrete guidelines of how one would do the comparison nor any oversight. Affordability is likewise left completely to the administrationís discretion; and right now, that means that workers earning below $45,000 per year contribute 15% of the cost of the cheapest health plan offered. As it is, many workers at Harvard reported to us an inability to participate in any health plan because of cost, and, as a consequence, they and their families cope without medical treatment. We believe that an appropriate range of co-pay contribution would be 0%-5% for workers under $30,000, and we urge the President to set such guidelines for collective bargaining. And we still live with the Mills Committee's recommendation that employees must work 16 hours or more a week in order to be eligible for health benefits; this creates a strong managerial incentive to force employees to work fewer than 16 hours a week, despite their stated desire for more hours, in order to avoid paying benefits. This is not an idle worry: janitors at the Graduate School of Education currently work 12 hours a week. Consequently, we recommend that the hours requirement be cut to 5 or 8 hours a week; our desire is not to see benefited workers on campus for just 5 hours a week, but to eliminate the incentive to cut hours.
One victory of the sit-in this past spring was a retroactive wage increase for directly employed custodians to be negotiated this January; President Rudenstine asked the HCECP to consider "whether a similar provision [of retroactivity] for contracted custodial workers would be consistent with its general recommendations concerning policy toward outsourcing." The HCECP notes that extending retroactivity would be "consistent with this Report's parity wage principle," and we believe that both parity and basic fairness require President Summers to extend retroactivity.
Finally, we are encouraged that the report outlines some specific policies for monitoring both the immediate and long-term compliance of Harvard and its contractors to the central recommendations made therein. Given the absence of evidence of implementation of the recommendations of the Mills Committee, we believe that specific implementation recommendations are of the highest priority. However, because of the absence of evidence of implementation of the recommendations of the Mills Committee, and our specific concerns about the monitoring difficulties that arise from the practice of outsourcing, we are very concerned that stronger mechanisms for oversight were not recommended. We believe that a standing committee with broad representation (like the HCECP) of faculty, students, workers and administrators would offer the broad-based perspective necessary to ensure that the outsourcing practices engaged by the University are consistent with the community standards that we share, and would ensure that the full community is offered an official channel for expression when concerns arise. Specifically, we would recommend that such a committee make recommendations concerning the principled grounds upon which outsourcing decisions could be made and the appropriateness of specific contractors as partners with the University (based upon, for example, historical and current status with respect to NLRB or OSHA violations), as well as recommending the termination of contracting relationships when violations are found. Such a standing committee should also convene annual or semi-annual worker forums, such as the one to which the HCECP was invited. The insights gained at the Worker Forum made an indelible impression on the committee process, and we would strongly support the use of such events by future committees.
In closing, we do not wish to lose sight of the significant gains that workers would see with the implementation of the HCECPís recommendations; these should not be doubted, and we hope that the President approves these recommendations with all due speed. But we also believe that a living wage and a card-check neutrality agreement, as well as the other recommendations outlined above, would represent a truer reckoning with the structural injustices and power imbalances that exist at Harvard. Such policies would have been a truer reckoning with the vision offered by the community of thousands who have advocated for such measures; such policies would be a deeper expression of commitment to a more humane, just, and dignified Harvard community. We believe that these recommendations represent a very significant and meaningful effort to close the gap between the "two Harvards," one of privilege and prominence and the other of poverty and invisibility. However, we hope that the University will ultimately go farther, and ensure "one Harvard" in which all members of our community are treated as full and equal participants -- a Harvard that has eliminated the ever-present possibility that the gulf between the "two Harvards" will grow so wide in the future that another crisis of poverty rocks our community.