Press Release 5/2For immediate release May 2, 2001
Talk of the moral importance of treating workers fairly resounded outside Massachusetts Hall on Tuesday, as faculty, students, labor leaders, community representatives and immigrant groups once again called on the Harvard Corporation to negotiate and bring an end to poverty wages. Speakers drew attention to the fact that this problem affects predominantly people of color, many of whom are immigrants.
Representatives from the Haitian Coalition, the Civil Rights Project of the Harvard School of Education, the Harvard Immigration Project and others spoke to the disproportionate effect of low wages on immigrants and people of color. "In these employees we see our own families, our grandparents, mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers and cousins, who worked and continue to work for low wages under inadequate conditions," explained Kiara Alvarez of Fuerza Latina, a student organization. "We choose to advocate for these employees because we understand the barriers that prevent them from advocating for themselves freely."
Mel King, founder of the Rainbow Coalition, spoke at the noon rally. "If you stand here, you have to understand, that allowing some people to exist in poverty and under what is not a living wage is to say that they can come and do the same thing to all of us."
Approximately forty students and community supporters from the Living Wage Campaign began a peaceful sit-in ten days ago in Massachusetts Hall, which contains the office of Harvard President Neil Rudenstine. The sit-in supports a living wage of $10.25 an hour, exclusive of benefits, for all direct and subcontracted Harvard workers. The City of Cambridge, in a 1999 ordinance, 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. Many work 80 or more hours each week to make ends meet.
Also at the noon rally, Brett Flehinger of the Harvard History Department emphasized the disingenuousness of administration statements since the sit-in began. "They're trying to avoid a moral issue. They can't deal with it directly. If you can't deal with what you're doing directly, then you're embarrassed about what you're doing." Flehinger noted the conflict between Harvard's stated goals as an educational institution and the message of inequality it is sending to the community.
Flehinger also expressed disappointment in a recent faculty meeting during which administrators described faculty members as "credulous". Earlier in the day faculty members took out a full-page advertisement in the Boston Globe containing a letter to the administration signed by over two hundred Harvard faculty.
On Tuesday afternoon, Service Employees International Union President Andy Stern made an unexpected visit to remind everyone that the living wage issue is about the "people who work every day". Echoing Flehinger's sentiments, Stern pledged the support of the 1.4 million members of SEIU, which includes most janitors who work at Harvard, and questioned the sincerity of administrators of "a university that believes strongly in freedom and justice and integrity." A vice president of the United Auto Workers also addressed the crowd.
The Living Wage Campaign had met with the administration and held rallies and other events for over two years before beginning the sit-in. Protesters, workers, faculty and community supporters continue to call for dialogue with the administration and the Harvard Corporation, the University's governing body. Members of the Corporation include President Rudenstine, Robert G. Stone, Jr. of Kirby Corp., and D. Ronald Daniel of McKinsey & Co.
"We love the administration," affirmed Aaron MacLeod, a grad student at Harvard Divinity School, following an evening prayer ceremony, "but we care that they do the right thing."
Where: Massachusetts Hall, Harvard Yard (Mass. Ave. at Church), Cambridge, MA
Contacts: Paul Lekas 617-256-5779, Matthew Feigin 617-867-3028