Press Release 4/24/01 PM
For immediate release April 24, 2001
HARVARD STUDENTS, COMMUNITY DISAPPOINTED BY STATEMENT ON SIT-IN, RENEW CALL FOR DIALOGUE
The approximately forty students and community supporters sitting in at Harvard University in support of a living wage for workers at Harvard expressed disappointment today in an e-mail by Harvard President Neil Rudenstine on the issue, which they said distorted several key facts. The Harvard Living Wage Campaign, which is sponsoring the sit-in, stated its hope that despite the threatening tone of the e-mail, the University would remain open to dialogue.
The peaceful sit-in began on Wednesday at Massachusetts Hall, which contains the office of Harvard President Neil Rudenstine. It supports a living wage of $10.25 an hour, exclusive of benefits, for all direct and subcontracted Harvard workers. The City of Cambridge adopted that figure as the living wage for its direct employees and workers on major subcontracts. At least 1500 workers at Harvard make less than the living wage, some as little as $6.50 an hour. The Living Wage Campaign had met with the administration and held rallies for over two years before beginning the sit-in.
The Rudenstine e-mail came after a day of calls for dialogue from within Harvard. The Masters of all thirteen undergraduate residences at Harvard College signed a letter calling for "a face to face meeting between student leaders and the administration." The United Ministry, an interfaith coalition encompassing nearly all religious groups on campus, also endorsed the letter.
Amy Offner, a Harvard College senior and member of the Living Wage Campaign, called Rudenstine's e-mail "disingenuous and insincere." In particular, although Rudenstine claimed that the administration had "listened seriously and repeatedly" to the views of workers, his handpicked commission to investigate employment practices interviewed only one Harvard worker in the course of its thirteen-month study. Rudenstine's e-mail endorsed the committee report, and he had stated before the sit-in that he was unwilling to reopen the issue of poverty wages at Harvard. "We have been speaking to Harvard for two years, and it has responded by cutting wages, moving workers from above the living wage to below it," said Miranda Worthen, a Harvard senior.
The students, workers supporting them, and other members of the Harvard community criticized the expanded benefits promised in the commission report as insufficient, noting that Harvard demanded $100 or more from part-time workers for health benefits and therefore that only 19 of Harvard's thousands of workers had gained coverage. "Workers need a living wage to pay their rent, and Harvard's report refuses to acknowledge that," said Offner.
Furthermore, the Living Wage Campaign pointed out that Harvard's treatment of unions on campus was flatly inconsistent with Rudenstine's claim to "respect the collective bargaining process." For example, since Harvard's security guards formed a union in 1995, Harvard has been replacing them with guards from a non-unionized contract firm that pays less than the living wage. Of the 120 people in the union, only 18 are left after four years, and their wages have fallen from $12 an hour to $8.
"Harvard constantly speaks of humanistic ideals and the truth and morals," David, a Harvard museum guard who asked not to be further identified, told the Campaign, "but when it comes to dealing with the workers in my union, those things are set aside for economic convenience." Every union representing Harvard workers has endorsed the Living Wage Campaign.
The Living Wage Campaign also stated that it was not they but the administration that was being "coercive" by refusing to begin a dialogue. "What's coercive," asked Offner, "thousands of members of our community standing together inside and outside Mass Hall Ð or the decision of a handful of administrators to deny workers a living wage, and to disregard the clearly stated values and demands of our community?" The Campaign noted that AFL-CIO President John Sweeney called such disregard "exactly what happened in the civil rights movement."
The Living Wage Campaign found Rudenstine's rejection of a dialogue with the demonstrators troubling. "This seems to represent a first step toward an administrative attempt to remove us from the building," said Offner. "That would be a cowardly way of avoiding the whole issue." The Living Wage Campaign has sought negotiations with the administration since the beginning of the sit-in.
Where: Massachusetts Hall, Harvard Yard (Mass. Ave. at Church), Cambridge, MA
Contacts: Paul Lekas 617-256-5779, Emilou Maclean 617-596-8146
Information: www.livingwagenow.com www.hcs.harvard.edu/~pslm/livingwage
These web sites contain more detailed responses to the administration committee's report at
and at http://www.hcs.harvard.edu/~pslm/livingwage/part2.html