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Harvard food service workers launch contract fight

By staff |
April 17, 2016
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Harvard workers and students rally as dining service workers prepare to enter negotiations for a new union contract. (FightBack!News/Staff)

Cambridge, MA - Hundreds of Harvard University workers and students rallied in the middle of Harvard Yard on April 14, as dining service workers prepare to enter negotiations for a new union contract. The workers are members of UNITE HERE Local 26, which represents nearly 800 workers on Harvard’s campus. The rally focused on two key issues which are expected to loom large in negotiations with the university administration - health care and year-round work.

Last year, Harvard management inspired headlines and protests by gutting the health insurance of its faculty and other non-union staff. The largest union at the university, the Harvard Union of Clerical and Technical Workers (HUCTW), recently settled on a less onerous plan but still agreed to some cost-shifting to workers. Dining service workers who spoke at the rally made it clear that they were prepared to resist any attacks on their healthcare. Dining hall worker Anabella Pappas referenced Harvard’s record setting fundraising campaign, which has now raised over $6.5 billion in two and a half years. “These people have all this money and they still want to take from us,” said Pappas. “It disgusts me.”

The workers also referenced the struggle to survive without year-round employment. The dining hall workers are laid off during summer and winter breaks. Some workers in the crowd said that many of them can only rely on eight or nine months of work per year. In addition, the Harvard workers are legally barred from collecting unemployment during the months of layoff. Despite having won high hourly wages through past contract fights, many of the workers spoke of annual incomes that are out of step with these wages. In response to stories about the hardships created by this partial employment, the crowd chanted, “Hey Harvard, you’ve got cash, why do you treat your workers like trash?”

The members of Local 26 were joined by a large group of SEIU 32BJ members, who work in custodial and security jobs on campus. The SEIU members’ contract with the university expires in the fall. Student activists from multiple organizations were present in large numbers and very vocal in their support for the workers. Statements of support were made by organizations including the Student Labor Action Movement, Divest Harvard, the Harvard Islamic Society, and the Harvard Black Students Association.