What's in the Committee's Data Release?

On October 22, HCECP released initial data on wages in Harvard's service sector. The data confirm everything that our community already knew: Harvard's service workers have endured deteriorating conditions for more than a decade, and are today terribly underpaid.

Directly-hired janitors:

 

Median wage fell from $10.96 to $9.55.
Mean wage fell from $11.58 to $9.92.

In 1994, 82% earned more than $10 per hour.
Today, 80% earn less than $10 per hour.

Directly-hired dining hall workers:

 

Median wage fell from $12.65 to $12.35.
Mean wage fell from $13.17 to $12.47.

In 1994, 17% earned less than $12 per hour.
Today, 33% earn less than $12 per hour.

Directly-hired guards:

 

Median wage fell from $14.31 to $9.58
Mean wage fell from $12.98 to $10.14.

In 1994, 58% earned more than $14 per hour.
Today, 58% earn less than $10 per hour.
And today, none earn more than $14 per hour.

The committee did not release data comparing Harvard's outsourced workers' wages over time, but today, outsourced workers' mean wages are nearly identical to those of their in-house counterparts. This is because over time, Harvard has used the low wages of outsourced workers as a standard for lowering all service workers' wages, producing a workforce that is structurally divided and devastatingly underpaid.

Today, there are at least 1,003 Harvard workers earning less than $10.68 per hour, the standard set in the Cambridge living wage ordinance. Hundreds more workers earn less than the $12 per hour called for by most studies of the local cost of living.

In every part of the service sector, both the number and percentage of directly-hired workers earning poverty-level wages has increased since 1994.

Directly-hired janitors:

 

Number of workers under $10.68 grew from 117 to 290.
Percentage of workers under $10.68 grew from 27% to 83%.

Directly-hired dining hall workers:

 

Number of workers under $10.68 grew from 21 to 58.
Percentage of workers under $10.68 grew from 5% to 11%.

Directly-hired guards:

 

Number of workers under $10.68 grew from 32 to 53.
Percentage of workers under $10.68 grew from 20% to 59%.

In the 1990s, Harvard lowered standards by hiring hundreds of service workers through low-wage, often non-union contractors instead of employing them directly. Outsourcing created a pool of underpaid, poorly-benefitted workers on campus, and the University used their relative deprivation to lower standards for all workers.

Harvard justifies its falling wages by explaining that it is neutrally following the market (and then hoping that no one will interrogate the veracity and morality of its argument). The committee's report reveals what Harvard means when it "follows the market": it finds the stingiest, most ruthless contractor around, brings it in to lower standards for as many workers as possible, and then demands that all other workers accept the same conditions because, by the most ruthless standards available, their treatment is too good. Markets do not "naturally" work this way; exploitative managers do.

Harvard's service workers have reflected the shifting demographics of service workers in the Boston area over the past fifteen years: they are increasingly immigrants and people of color. The university's move to slash wages is thus doubly disturbing, for Harvard is taking advantage of populations which are least able to fight back.

Directly-hired janitors: the proportion of workers of color grew from 78% to 88%.
Directly-hired dining hall workers: the proportion of workers of color grew from 25% to 43%.

Harvard's defenders suggest that race, ethnicity, and citizenship rightly, naturally, determine wages. In the context of all U.S. labor history, that argument seems a very thin apology for institutional racism.