The Harvard Living Wage Campaign's Initial Response to President Summers' Decision on Labor Policies

January, 2002

Today, nearly nine months after last Spring’s sit-in, President Summers has finally announced his decision on the university’s new labor policies in response to the recommendations released on December 19 by the Harvard Committee on Employment and Contracting Policies (HCECP). As the HCECP recommended, Summers has chosen to enact a one-time boost in wages to a minimum of between $10.83 and $11.30 per hour, as well as a parity wage policy that requires that subcontracted workers receive wages equal to those of their in-house counterparts. However, despite his praise for the HCECP report, Summers fails to address crucial elements of its proposal, including affordable health benefits, protection for workers’ rights to organize, and provisions against bad-faith bargaining. Most importantly, by rejecting the community’s long-standing call for a living wage, echoed by eight of the HCECP's nineteen members -- including a majority of its students and workers -- Summers has failed to enact a solution that will end poverty at Harvard in the long run.

Summers' decision not to adopt a permanent living wage standard is dismaying first and foremost because it virtually guarantees that poverty will continue to plague Harvard’s service workers. The one-time wage boost to a minimum of between $10.83 to $11.30 falls far short of what Harvard janitors and security guards made ten years ago, and what janitors earn at other Boston universities. Although an improvement, it will leave many campus employees’ basic needs unmet. Moreover, the lack of a cost of living adjustment is a cause of serious concern: if Harvard’s past conduct is any indication, the administration can be counted on to make every effort to erode these wages in future contract negotiations without the protection of a living wage floor. Summers has failed even to adopt the HCECP’s recommended "fair bargaining provision," which would guarantee that if Harvard refused to negotiate a contract with its workers, wages would automatically rise with the cost of living until a contract was settled. President Summers should eliminate poverty at Harvard and guarantee the ability of workers to engage in healthy and fair collective bargaining with the university by implementing an annually adjusted living wage policy.

In addition to poverty wages, a number of other crucial problems are left unsolved by Summers' policy changes. While many workers have been offered health benefits, the copayments are so expensive that the majority of service workers choose to forgo them. Summers’ stated policy changes made no commitment to making health care more affordable and accessible to Harvard workers. Summers has also refused to adopt measures protecting workers’ rights to organize, severely discrediting his claim that the university supports collective bargaining. And most disturbingly, Summers has only made vague statements about how these policy changes will be executed. By leaving monitoring and implementation in the hands of the Office Human Resources rather than committing to the kind of broad representation embodied in the HCECP, Summers is taking a backward step that further undermines our faith in his consideration for the views of students and workers. If Summers wants to gain the trust of the community, he must allow implementation to be monitored by inclusive body of students, workers, and faculty in addition to administrators.

We are deeply disappointed that Summers has not offered a lasting solution to the persistent disgrace of poverty on our campus, as has been called for by an overwhelming majority of the Harvard community. Whether or not Harvard employees have to live in poverty should not be a decision left to the collective bargaining process. Summers should affirm the moral principle that it is unacceptable for Harvard to pay the workers that keep our campus safe, clean, and well-fed so little that they must decide between medical care or food, between paying the rent or spending time with their families. Significant progress has been made, but the brutal conditions of poverty on our campus remain, and the need for a living wage policy at Harvard is as urgent as ever. We will continue to organize and pressure the administration until a just resolution is achieved.