Press Release 4/20/01

For immediate release April 20, 2001


Harvard University yesterday made its first official response to a sit-in for a living wage, but students, workers and community members affiliated with the Living Wage Campaign called that response inaccurate and misleading. Forty-six students and community supporters began the peaceful sit-in on Wednesday in support of a $10.25 per hour living wage plus benefits for all workers at Harvard. It is the first sit-in at a Harvard building in over a decade.

Almost fifty students and other members of the Living Wage Campaign have been conducting the peaceful sit-in since Wednesday at 1:35 PM. They remain 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 condemned as deceptive the University's repeated statement that only about 400 Harvard employees make less than a living wage. The university subcontracts out an increasing amount of clerical, dining hall, and security guard work to low-wage firms. The university had previously admitted that about 650 so-called "casual" workers and at least 500 workers on Harvard subcontracts would also get less than the Living Wage Campaign's demand. The administration's own figures thus reveal that a living wage would benefit about 1500 or more workers at Harvard, not about 400. Elaine Bernard, of Harvard's Trade Union Program, spoke at a solidarity rally and called subcontracted workers "the hidden workers at Harvard." She praised the Living Wage Campaign for making them a topic of discussion.

Similarly, students and community members called it absurd that Harvard was claiming that they had been able to speak to the Harvard administration on "a number of occasions." The University's ultimate governing body is the Harvard Corporation. Because the Corporation selects its own members, it is accountable to no one. Harvard's bylaws, however, give the Corporation ultimate control over all matters. The Living Wage Campaign has repeatedly asked to speak to the Corporation, but the Corporation has refused that request.

Finally, the Living Wage Campaign criticized the University's insistence that its employment policies had been thoroughly reviewed by an ad hoc committee earlier this year. Dr. Bernard mocked the ad hoc committee for its "exhaustive thirteen-month investigation, during which they managed to speak to only one worker -- brought to meet with the committee by the students!"

One demonstrator sitting in Massachusetts Hall addressed the rally, leaning out a window. She reported that the protestors' spirits were high and that they "owned this building," having extended its influence to another office in the course of the day.

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