The data gathered by the committee document the decline of the real wage for Harvard’s lower-paid workers. They also show increased use of outside contractors whose employees -- frequently former Harvard employees -- became among the lowest paid workers on the Harvard campus. The option of outside contracting allowed units at Harvard to bypass wages and benefits negotiated with unions through collective bargaining. That option further pressured unions to accept downward movement on real wages for employees who remained directly employed by Harvard. Given these facts, three strategies become central to ensure that Harvard remedy the current situation and, even more importantly, does not again permit the real wages of its lower-paid workers to decline:
Because the committee report embraces these strategies, I endorse it, and I am confident that the results will be better for the lower paid workers than if the committee had instead restricted its options to the adoption or rejection of a minimum wage. For then the committee either would have failed to reach an affirmative recommendation for a minimum wage—or it would have endorsed one so low as to make no real difference in the lives of the lowest paid workers, now or over time.
Instead, the committee unanimously recommends vital strategies to remedy the current situation and guard against its recurrence. To guide Harvard’s employment and contracting policies in the future, the committee articulates as fundamental principles an obligation to bargain in good faith with unionized employees and an obligation not to use outsourcing to undermine its good-faith bargaining or to weaken the wages or unions representing Harvard employees. Crucially, the committee’s principles to guide employment and contracting policies make clear that on-campus service workers are integral contributors to the university’s teaching and research missions, that they deserve treatment with dignity and respect by all other members of the university community, and that they should share in economic prosperity and not bear any disproportionate share of adjustments needed in the face of economic down-turns. If the President embraces and implements these principles, lower-paid workers will receive the recognition and appreciation they deserve for enabling all else that happens on campus--from learning in and out of classrooms and knowledge-building in and beyond research settings, to community safety and community feeling. It is now time for Harvard to embrace not only these principles but their spirit, and to commit to refraining from using its own power to intimidate workers or undercut their wages.
I myself would prefer a back-stop minimum wage to accompany the committee’s recommendations for parity between union-negotiated wages and benefits and those governing contractors. I also would prefer a more precise statement of the enforcement mechanisms— including an ongoing university oversight committee with representation of students, faculty, workers, and administrators. There are paragraphs here and phrases there in the committee report that I would have written differently. But I heartily endorse the committee report. It represents a monumental and historic expression of the obligations of this great university and its opportunity to teach by example.