A strike has forged an unusual alliance between workers and students at Harvard.
Harvard University and its striking food service workers reached a “tentative agreement” early this morning, reports Harvard’s student newspaper, The Crimson. The union that represents the dining staff says that the new deal “accomplished all their goals,” and will be sent to a bargaining subcommittee for review today. The strike had just entered its third, very public, week.
The strike had become more than a public relations nightmare for Harvard. It has revealed, once again, the vulnerable state of low-income people who are indispensable parts of our largest institutions and corporations, yet are unable to make the kind of progress that hard work is supposed to guarantee.
At issue is a minimum salary of $35,000 and affordable health care: According to the UNITE HERE Local 26, the union that represents the workers, half of Harvard’s dining services workers earn less than $35,000 a year, despite a $62 million operating surplus. The union is fighting against proposed changes in their health care plan that would make it out of reach for many members.
The workers have repeatedly brought their case to the students, which has created a strong alliance. “Harvard would rather cut corners on labor costs than ensure stable livelihoods for its lowest-paid workers, whose services are essential for students’ well-being,” wrote two law students in the Harvard Law Record. “As Willie Moore, the Hark’s “buffalo chicken wrap guy” succinctly put it, ‘Harvard is just as it is in the streets.’ While Harvard may appear classy to the rest of the world, those on the inside know the crass truth.”
Just three days ago, students from colleges around Boston joined with Harvard students, other supporters, and union members in a massive protest that stopped traffic as they marched through the streets to Cambridge City Hall. Yesterday, hundreds of Harvard students walked out of class for the second time in a week, demanding a settlement from the school. A significant number waited outside while the talks continued into the wee hours.
And the students have played a key role in crunching the numbers. Yesterday, a worker with seventeen years of service named Rosa Ines Rivera, penned an op-ed for The New York Times:
The Boston area has a long history of racial discord and inequality that, like most cities, extends into systems that continue today. Harvard has an opportunity to address a small piece of that, and I hope they do. But it will be worth watching how this alliance will affect the many future leaders who have just learned the name of the ‘buffalo chicken wrap guy,’ while looking across an abundant table only to discover that not everybody is getting their fair share. That sounds like the education of a lifetime.
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The Woke Leader
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