Press Release 4/19/01

For immediate release April 19, 2001


For the first time in over a decade, Harvard students are sitting in at a University building. Forty-six students and community supporters began the peaceful sit-in in support of a $10.25 per hour living wage plus benefits for all workers at Harvard. Over 1000 direct and subcontracted workers now make less than that figure.

Almost fifty students and other members of the Living Wage Campaign have been conducting the peaceful sit-in since Wednesday at 1:35 PM in Massachusetts Hall, which contains the offices of the University's President and Treasurer. Two protestors are in the Treasurer's office.. Harvard administrators left their offices soon after the protestors arrived, denying efforts to negotiate with them.

The Living Wage Campaign has demanded that Harvard pay the same living wage that the city of Cambridge guarantees its workers, whether employed directly or on major subcontracts. That wage is $10.25 per hour plus benefits for all workers at Harvard, direct or subcontracted. Neighboring universities MIT, BU, and Northeastern pay all custodians at least $14.15 per hour. But Harvard, the nation's richest university, pays many of its workers as little as $6.50 per hour. Students told of Harvard workers who work eighty-hour weeks or live in homeless shelters as a result.

Harvard pays poverty wages mostly by subcontracting an increasing amount of custodial, dining hall, and security work. Harvard then tries to obscure the benefit of a living wage by not counting workers at subcontracted firms among those who would gain from a living wage. Harvard has suggested expanded benefits, including discounted museum passes and health insurance, but students condemned those responses to poverty wages as inadequate, particularly because the University or subcontractors would likely reduce workers' hours in order to deny them health insurance.

The Living Wage Campaign has been in discussions with the Administration for over two and a half years. During that time, Harvard's endowment has swelled $6 billion, to over $19 billion. A living wage policy would cost less than one half of 1% of the interest on that endowment.

The Harvard Corporation, the University's governing board, has refused to meet with members of the Living Wage Campaign. Although the University appointed a committee last year to investigate its employment policies, the committee spoke with only one worker and did not directly respond to Harvard's poverty wages. Last week, President Neil Rudenstine told members of the Living Wage Campaign that the University would not reopen the issue.

In its first day, the sit-in drew strong support from Harvard employees. Hundreds of workers, students, and community members began to gather outside Massachusetts Hall once the protesters were inside. They lent support with marches and chants during the day and continued with evening speeches and a candlelight vigil. One worker, speaking in his native Spanish, called for a living wage and said it would not cost the University "a hair on their head." Every Harvard union has endorsed the living wage. Jeff Booth, a library worker, called the sit-in "long overdue ... I understand the students wanting to do everything they could before resorting to this, but it's the only thing universities understand."

Harvard police prevented outside supporters from passing food to the protestors inside. Later, however, twenty dining hall workers chanting "Living wage!" arrived with a pizza dinner and demanded that the police let them "feed the students." Harvard police permitted the protestors to receive their dinner.

Where: Massachusetts Hall, Harvard Yard (Mass. Ave. at Peabody), Cambridge, MA
Contacts: Paul Lekas 617-256-5779 Emilou Maclean 617-596-8146