The data released today paint an unforgiving picture of Harvard as an employer. Yet the committee's narrative downplays some
of the most damning data, uncritically presents administrative justifications for current conditions, and whitewashes
Harvard's active role in destroying working conditions.
- The committee's narrative uncritically presents administrative arguments and terms.
- The narrative often takes at face value Harvard's claim that it outsources to secure higher-quality services. This claim
is disputed by Harvard workers and unions, who point out that the real "gains" Harvard secures through outsourcing are workers
with lower wages, fewer benefits, and often no union through which to contest their inadequate conditions.
- When administrators do admit that they outsource to cut labor costs, the narrative uncritically imports their euphemisms,
reporting that Harvard is trying to maintain financial viability by reigning in unprofitable in-house enterprises. (See,
e.g., the discussion of the guards on p. 15.) Aside from being a transparent cover for exploitative motives, this phrase
seems highly inappropriate for a non-profit institution. Safety at Harvard is not, and should not be, a for-profit
- The narrative reports that Harvard has created more full-time directly-hired janitorial positions, but it uses Harvard's
purposely misleading definition of full-time work - at least 20 hours per week. (p.9.)
- The report adopts a number of administrative terms which cast as morally neutral actions and relationships which are
suspect. For instance, it refers to Harvard bringing janitors' wages "in line with" those of area contractors - what Harvard
did was slash wages to the lowest common denominator. (See, e.g., p. 7.) And throughout, the committee refers to
directly-hired workers as "Harvard employees" and outsourced Harvard workers as "employees of service contractors." (See,
e.g., p. 5.) These are Harvard's administrative phrases designed to shield the university from responsibility to its most
- The narrative's discussion of worker demographics invites the reader to believe that Harvard's low-wage workers deserve
the wages they are being paid.
The narrative describes Harvard's falling wages as being "associated with" a shift in the demographic make-up of Harvard's
workforce - workers are increasingly immigrants, people of color, and less highly educated than past workers. The narrative
phrases these facts to frame immigrant status, and other demographic data, as a predictor of wages, and thus invites the
conclusion that Harvard must inevitably underpay these workers. We would counter that Harvard is taking advantage of
populations which are least able to defend themselves, and that it has the prerogative and responsibility to pay them
- The narrative exonerates university administrators of responsibility for deteriorating working conditions, and pins it
on campus unions.
The clearest case of this distortion is seen in the discussion of the janitors, whose union is blamed for failing to win good
wages for workers, and actually allowing wages to fall. What is never explained is Harvard's deliberate attempts to push down
wages, and why wages fell when they did in 1992 and 1996. There was no change in union leadership or membership at these
times, but the university began using the threat of outsourcing to extract extraordinary concessions from workers. This
tactic was used across all parts of the service sector - indeed, the data reveals a simultaneous fall in wages and union power
for janitors, dining service workers, and guards in the early-to-mid-1990s. Harvard is never indicated as an agent in this
- The narrative places disproportionate and misleading focus on directly-hired, unionized workers, deflecting attention
away from casual and outsourced workers.
In doing so, the narrative replicates the administration's tactic of downplaying the severity of workplace abuses by ignoring
the most exploited workers. The committee may have had honest problems in securing data on these workers, but it should have
noted these institutional obstacles to monitoring- obstacles which reveal political and moral problems with Harvard's