Striking Harvard Workers Reach a Deal

The historic protest may be over, as food service employees and administrators reach a "tentative" accord.

harvard protest 5

photo via Twitter / Unite Here Local 26

After an historic three weeks of protest on the Harvard campus and beyond, striking food service workers at the prestigious school have reached an accord with administrators.

Negotiators reached a deal in the early hours of Tuesday morning, although the details were not disclosed publicly. Brian Lang, the head of the union representing the employees, Unite Here Local 26, tells the Harvard Crimson the agreement is “tentative.” It will still need to pass through a formal review process that includes a Wednesday vote of the union’s board. The workers could be back on the job on Thursday, Lang says.

The workers had sought an increase in wages to $35,000 and for administrators to cap growth in employees’ health care contributions. Their strike was the first at Harvard since 1983 and the first-ever during the school year.

The early morning decision followed a student walkout and sit-in that lasted into the night.

Harvard had faced intense pressure to concede to the union. In addition to the national media attention the strike attracted, the city councils in Boston and Cambridge, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, and even celebrities like Ben Stiller (in town shooting a movie), showed their support.

Commentators were quick to point out the university’s vast endowment of more than $35 billion, and pundits far beyond Boston pilloried the irony of a recent multi-million dollar grant to study poverty in minority communities.

One worker named Rosa Ines Rivera, who says she works in the university’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health, penned an op-ed that appeared in the New York Times yesterday, which highlights what she described as the hypocrisy of her low wages.

I serve the people who created Obamacare, people who treat epidemics and devise ways to make the world healthier and more humane. But I can’t afford the health care plan Harvard wants us to accept.

Harvard is the richest university in the nation, with a $35 billion endowment. But I can’t live on what Harvard pays me. I take home between $430 and $480 a week, and this August, I fell behind on my $1,150 rent and lost my apartment. Now my two kids and I are staying with my mother in public housing, with all four of us sharing a single bedroom. I grew up in the projects and on welfare. I want my 8-year-old daughter and 2-year-old son to climb out of the cycle of poverty. But for most of my time at Harvard it’s been hard.