What's Missing?

The data released today confirm everything we've learned about wages over the last three years from service workers: real wages have fallen catastrophically. But the report leaves out information that is critical to understanding and addressing Harvard's deteriorating wages.
  • Benefits. The committee is charged with assessing the fairness of Harvard's benefit offerings, yet there is almost no information on them in this data release. The report does mention that 91% of part-time, directly-hired janitors, and 26% of full-time, directly-hired janitors, have no Harvard health coverage. Interviews with workers also reveal that museum guards do not receive any paid sick days, and that many workers who are eligible for health benefits do not receive them - either because the benefits are not clearly advertised, or because the plans are exorbitantly expensive.

  • Cost of Living. The real effects of plummeting wages cannot be understood without attention to the skyrocketing cost of living in Greater Boston. Especially since the elimination of rent control in Boston and Cambridge, it has become nearly impossible for Harvard workers to live anywhere near Cambridge, even on the income earned from two and three jobs. The committee is charged with studying the local cost of living and assessing Harvard's wages in its context, yet this data release fails to do so.

  • Casual Workers. The committee report explicitly omits information about casual workers at Harvard - direct, non-union employees who may comprise as much as one-third of Harvard's low-wage workforce. Casual employees work up to 3 months or less than 17.5 hours per week, and they are barred from campus unions. Based on information in the May 2000 report of the Ad Hoc Committee on Employment Policies, as well as information provided in meetings with former Director of Labor Relations Kim Roberts, the Living Wage Campaign estimates that 300 to 750 casual workers are paid less than a living wage during a given week.

  • Qualitative Data. The committee has received a great deal of qualitative data on working at Harvard that should accompany the quantitative data released today. For instance, the Harvard Workers' Center gave the committee anonymous profiles of janitors, food service workers, and security guards providing information from workers' budgets to their living conditions to their experiences in bargaining with Harvard. This kind of information is necessary to explain how wages deteriorated at Harvard, and the real effects of that deterioration on workers.

  • Wage Comparisons for Guards. The data release does not provide wage comparisons between Harvard guards and those at other universities and institutions, claiming that the committee has not collected comparative data in this sector. However, the guards' union did present the committee with data comparing museum guards' wages at Harvard, Yale, the Worcester Art Museum, and the DeCordova Museum. According to the guards' union, Harvard's wages were the lowest of the group, starting at roughly $8.50 per hour, as compared with Yale's guards, who earned $14 per hour in 1997.

  • Harvard's Active Role in Slashing Wages. Today's data release shows clearly that service workers' wages have fallen steeply since 1994. Yet the committee's narrative fails to identify Harvard as an actor in this process; it obscures the fact that wages have fallen because Harvard has worked aggressively for 10 years to see that they did. From busting the guards' union to creating a two-tiered wage structure for dining hall workers to outsourcing hundreds of jobs to firms that pay poverty-level wages, Harvard's central administration pursued a coherent policy of destroying wages, benefits, and unions in the service sector. The committee's narrative points to every actor other than Harvard, however, in explaining Harvard's eroding work conditions, and frequently twists or hides critical facts to do so. If the conditions exposed in today's release are to be remedied, their root causes must be understood, and Harvard cannot be shielded from responsibility and judgment.