Press Release 4/30


AFL-CIO National President John Sweeney is coming to Harvard on Monday at noon to support students and community members staging a sit-in. Protesters are demanding a living wage for Harvard's lowest-paid workers. In a historic collaboration between national labor unions and a student movement, more than a thousand people are expected to join Sweeney, Chavez-Thompson and prominent Harvard faculty at tomorrow's rally as the peaceful sit-in enters its 13th day.

Nearly two weeks ago, more than 30 students and community supporters began Harvard's first act of civil disobedience in over a decade by sitting in in Massachusetts Hall, which contains the University President's office. Following over two years of failed dialogue with Harvard, the protestors staged the sit-in to end the Harvard administration's denial of a living wage -- $10.25 per hour plus benefits -- to over 1000 direct and subcontracted workers at Harvard. The living wage was defined for Cambridge, MA, by the Cambridge municipal government, which pays a living wage to its direct employees and employees on major subcontracts under a 1999 ordinance.

Since the sit-in has begun, public support for a living wage at Harvard has grown dramatically. Senator Ted Kennedy (D-MA) and former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich visited students sitting in to offer personal support. Senators Kerry (D-MA) and Wellstone (D-MN), Representative Barney Frank (D-MA), the Massachusetts Democratic Party, and the Democratic National Committee have written letters of endorsement. More than 300 faculty members have endorsed the Living Wage Campaign, including William Julius Wilson, Lani Guinier, Cornel West, and Juliet Schor.

During the past two years of dialogue, Harvard's endowment has swelled $6 billion to over $19 billion, and yet the University still refuses to spend less than one half of 1% of its endowment--far less than its operating surplus in FY 2000 -- to provide its workers with a living wage. Instead, Harvard has suggested expanding benefits to include discounted museum passes and broader access to health insurance as a solution to the living wage problem. The Living Wage Campaign has condemned such responses to poverty wages as inadequate -- at best offering only cosmetic improvements, at worst threatening to worsen working conditions at Harvard.

By making the facts publicly obvious, the sit-in has ended moral equivocation over the living wage issue. Neighboring universities MIT, BU, and Northeastern pay all custodians at least $14.15 per hour. Harvard, the nation's richest university, pays many of its workers as little as $7.50 per hour.

"I know of Harvard workers who work eighty-hour weeks or live in homeless shelters as a result of poverty wages," remarks Anna Falicov, a junior at Harvard College who is sitting-in. "Harvard pays unacceptable wages primarily by subcontracting an increasing amount of custodial, dining hall, and security work. Harvard then tries to obscure the extent of the problem by not counting subcontracted workers among the employees who would gain from a living wage."

Where: Massachusetts Hall, Harvard Yard (Massachusetts Ave. at Church St), Cambridge, MA
When: Monday, April 30th, 12 noon
Contacts: Matthew Feigin 617-867-3028 Emilou Maclean 617-596-8146 Information: