One Year Later: An Update from the
Harvard Living Wage Campaign

On May 8th, 2001, the Progressive Student Labor Movement ended our occupation of Massachusetts Hall, the office of Harvard's President and Provost. One year later, what has our sit-in accomplished? What work remains to be done? Significant progress has certainly been made in the past year: wages for janitors and security guards are up and raises for dining workers will be negotiated, while Harvard has adopted a parity policy that dulls some of the destructive effects of outsourcing and has promised to release annual data about low wage campus workers. But much work remains to be done: Harvard has still not agreed to a living wage policy which ensures that all campus workers and their families do not live in poverty, and that wages are adjusted to account for rising costs of living. Moreover, our sit-in was also about the wages and working conditions of those who manufacture Harvard apparel in sweatshops, and Harvard has not moved an inch on this issue in the year since we left Massachusetts Hall.

A Look at Campus Wages

One of the most significant sit-in victories was a retroactive pay increase and contract re-opener for campus custodians, who are members of SEIU Local 254. The Harvard Committee on Employment & Contracting Policies (HCECP), which was appointed as a result of the sit-in, recommended that contracts for guards and dining workers also be re-opened. As Harvard tried to drag out the resultant negotiations, workers and students together organized many strong and militant actions to demand living wages; massive janitors rallies on November 30th, January 21st (MLK Day), and February 14th culminated in civil disobedience on February 26th, as eight students, workers, and community supporters were arrested to protest Harvard's continued refusal to negotiate fairly. In the end, janitors won a contract that raised hourly starting wages from $9.75 to $11.35, retroactive to May 2001. Starting wages rise to $11.85 in October 2002. Workers have repeatedly emphasized to us that they would not have been able to win wage increases as large as they did without the support of the hundreds of students and community members such as yourselves who joined them in protest. Read the contract here.

While the janitors make up the largest portion of service workers at Harvard, students have also worked hard to support the other groups on campus. After a rally on April 29th with the security, museum, and parking guards represented by the International Brotherhood of Police Officers Local 580, campus guards won a contract that raised hourly wages, which were in some cases as low as $8.75, to $11.15. Starting wages rise to $11.35 in July 2002 (However, many in-house security guards earn more than $11.15 because they have worked here for many years, and the contract gives them a $300 signing bonus and a 3% increase in July 2002). Meanwhile, Harvard has yet to resolve a new contract with dining hall workers, some of whom continue to earn $9.00 an hour -- and even less in the case of some contractors.

Starting Wage, May 2001 (union) Starting wage, May 2002 (union & outsourced)
Custodians $9.65/hr $11.35/hr
Guards $8.75 $11.15
Dining Service Workers $9.00 negotiations incomplete

Many people have asked if these wages are sufficient, now that they exceed the Cambridge living wage standard, which now sits at $11.11 an hour. The answer comes from the burgeoning student-worker solidarity spurred by the sit-in, which (unfortunately) cannot be quantified as easily as wage increases. The sit-in was an empowering event for workers on campus, who saw that they had the campus behind them and felt more comfortable speaking out -- despite the threat of supervisor harrassment and even being suspended or fired from their jobs (this is no hyperbole: several activist workers were suspended during the janitors' contract campaign). And more and more, we heard from workers that the Cambridge living wage was just not enough. The Campaign has always said that Harvard must do *at least* as well as the City, but the City's number of $11.11 an hour does not represent a magic threshold above which life suddenly becomes easy. What workers increasingly told us is that their needs were much more accurately reflected in studies like those of the Economic Policy Institute, which found that two workers supporting two children in the Boston area each needed to earn $13.47 per hour; many campus workers have said that it would take wages closer to $15 an hour for them to be able to work less than two jobs. So, the Campaign's position is, and always has been, this: Harvard should pay a living wage, adjusted annually for changes in the cost of living, that is at least as much as the living wage level set by the City of Cambridge.

Parity for Outsourced Workers & other HCECP policies

As a result of the sit-in, Harvard convened the HCECP -- a committee of faculty, worker, and student representatives -- to re-evaluate Harvard's wages and contracting policies. The administration handpicked the majority of the committee and it consequently failed to recommend a living wage policy, although 8 of the HCECP's 19 members nonetheless publicly endorsed the living wage. However, the HCECP did make some significant recommendations in addition to the one-time wage increases discussed above. While the HCECP refused to ban outsourcing as the Campaign demanded, they did recommend a "parity" policy that should ensure that outsourced workers employed by contractors like Sodexho and SSI receive the same wages and benefits as workers employed directly by Harvard. Harvard previously used cheaper outside labor to cut the wages of their direct employees -- using SSI, for example, to force the median real wages of security guards down from $14.31/hr to $9.58/hr from 1994 to 2001. The new policy theoretically prohibits this by requiring SSI and other contractors to pay the same total compensation to their employees as the collectively bargained wages and benefits of in-house Harvard workers. The policy is at However, Harvard has dragged out implementation of parity to unacceptable lengths; many outsourced janitors have not yet or are only now receiving their parity wages, and no outsourced security guard has yet received the newly negotiated wage.

Although their misleading publicity led many to think otherwise, Harvard did not accept some of the most important HCECP recommendations. Most notably, the HCECP recommended that "Should the parties [unions and management] fail to reach agreement for more than 12 months, the parity wage will be adjusted upward annually by the rate of increase of the U.S. consumer price index" (pg. 40); in other words, wages would be adjusted according to the cost of living if they worked without a contract. We believe this policy would go far in protecting workers and their unions from the tactics Harvard has used in the past to weaken them. Needless to say, President Larry Summers categorically refused to adopt this recommendation, and while this "fair bargaining" policy is no replacement for a living wage, it could make a significant difference. Harvard guards, after all, worked without a contract from 1995 until 1999 -- seeing no raises and having no job security.

In addition, the HCECP prominently recommended the parity wage policy be complemented by a code of conduct for contractors to ensure that not only wages and benefits but also treatment and respect were equal between in-house and outsourced workers. This is important because many workers report extremely high levels of harrassment and mistreatment from their supervisors and, as noted above, some workers have apparently been suspended for their union activity. Yet neither Summers' statement of 1/31/02 nor the Office of Human Resources' report on HCECP implementation mention anything about such a code of conduct (see the report at This points to the signal failing of the process of implementing the HCECP's recommendations: Harvard refuses to permit the involvement of concerned community members; while faculty, workers, and students made up the HCECP, none of the three groups are allowed to oversee the implementation of those recommendations. As a result, dozens of outsourced janitors have reported to us that they have not yet received their higher parity wages.

What We Are Fighting For Now

No one can doubt that significant progress has been made in the past year -- workers are beginning to receive higher pay and the parity wage policy may significantly dull the weapon of outsourcing Harvard wielded so effectively.

But neither can anyone doubt the work that remains: Harvard has yet to adopt a living wage policy that ensures wages that reflect the rising cost of living in the Boston area. Students and workers will continue to struggle towards that goal. In particular, we believe the next year will see a serious focus on strengthening worker organizations on campus, continued watchdogging of Harvard's incomplete adoption and implementation of the HCECP's recommendations, and additional actions to bring about policies guaranteeing a living wage now. In addition, the master contract for more than 10,000 janitors across Boston will be negotiated this fall by SEIU 254, and we hope to support workers throughout the area during this time. Moreover, Harvard has yet to adopt any serious policies to improve the wages and working conditions of the people who manufacture Harvard apparel -- refusing even to join the independent Workers Rights Consortium (WRC).

Members of the Progressive Student Labor Movement sees a great deal of work ahead to make Harvard a more equitable place, and we hope you will join us.