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Harvard University Makes a Deal

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 students say that Harvard’s proposal is unaffordable for nearly all of us according to state government guidelines. If it goes through, I will keep avoiding the doctor to save that money for my kids’ co-pays. Any increase puts me at the breaking point.

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.”

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.

On Point

A diversity group accused of racial discriminationThe organization behind the conference, Grace Hopper Women in Computing Celebration, has a serious problem with racial diversity, charges several current and former employees. The Anita Borg Institute, which hosts the conference, bills itself as a diversity leader by evaluating major tech firms for inclusiveness for women, but they routinely ignore issues for women of color. One staffer was told, “race is not a priority metric for us to target or to measure.”Techcrunch

Intel CEO says we all have unconscious biases
Brian Krzanich took the stage at the aforementioned Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing to talk about diversity at Intel. He says that one way the company has been working on the issue of unconscious bias is by calling it out when it happens. “I still watch men in meetings. The woman says something, [then] the guy says it and everyone goes, ‘that’s what we should do.'” He also routinely asks Intel’s chief diversity officer for feedback on his own behavior.

MBKA CEO: Three paths to racial reconciliation
Blair Taylor, the CEO of My Brother’s Keeper Alliance, offers a three-pronged approach to healing racial divides. Of the three, the first is the hardest: Intentional and uncomfortable dialogue. “America’s private sector–innovative and advanced in most every other way–has been largely silent regarding race. It won’t fix all, but private sector leaders can and must lead the way by creating space to address realities unfolding across the nation amongst employees.”

Civil rights groups sue the federal government
The Color of Change and the Center for Constitutional Rights have filed a lawsuit against the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security, requesting information about government’s surveillance activities against Black Lives Matter activists. Journalists have documented numerous instances of federal and local monitoring of activists.

Africans mock the US election, but with love
What if the US election – same candidates, same, uh, behaviors – was being held in an African country? This is the premise of an amusing Twitter hashtag called #Nov8AfricaEdition, which pokes a bit of fun at the U.S. drama while pointing out some of the long-standing idiosyncrasies of African leadership. “Trump calls press conference, says he will go to election tribunal. Threatens to form parallel government,” tweeted one man from Lagos.

The Woke Leader

Viewpoint diversity is just as important as racial diversity
Writer Clay Routledge has an interesting column charging that the liberal social scientists who populate American universities are doing their communities a disservice by ignoring the suppression of conservative views. They tend to document prejudicial treatment based on race, gender, sexual orientation, he says, but fail to study widespread prejudice against conservative thinking. “It is liberals, not conservatives, who display intolerance.”
Scientific American

Here’s how hard it is to open a taco truck in NYC
Anyone worried by the prospect of enterprising Latinx immigrants opening up mobile businesses to sell food? You can relax. A wall is no problem compared to the mountains of red tape that will be required to wade through before a taco truck can happen, at least in NYC. “You’ll have to get through 68 pages of regulations on mobile-food vending. Many of them sensibly protect cleanliness and food safety, but others are more draconian,” says Polina Marinova.

Traveling and connecting while black
Writer Nneka Okona is no stranger to travel; she writes eloquently online and on Twitter about her lengthy trips, mostly alone and definitely while black. Of a trip to Spain, “my memories are framed by a sense of others cowering at my difference.” This poignant essay, part memoir, part essential reading list of work by other traveling black women authors, highlights both the difficulty of being black in the world and the gift of connecting with others through a shared experience of isolation and adventure.


Harvard, Yale, Princeton, and the rest of the Ivy League are worthy institutions, to be sure, but they’re not known for educating large numbers of poor young people.
—Robert Reich