Dining hall workers began a strike on Oct. 5 in a dramatic move against Harvard University due to a dispute over wages and benefits.
The strike broke out after almost six months of failed negotiations between the workers’ union Unite Here Local 26 and the university. The workers are demanding a salary of $35,000 guaranteed for year-round workers, as well as no extra costs for healthcare. Harvard planned to increase the monthly health insurance price for its employees since it was below the average national cost.
One of the biggest concerns for the dining hall workers is summer employment. Some employees are laid-off after classes end in the summer and cannot collect unemployment since Harvard is a nonprofit institution. The university tried to negotiate stipends of $150 to $250, which summer dining hall workers would receive weekly. Harvard also proposed a 10 percent increase to wages over five years to appease the protesting workers. The union rejected these proposals.
Rather, Local 26 is asking for stipends of $450 a week during the summer and winter breaks and a 22.5 percent increase in salary compensation over a four-year period. The university, which has an endowment of $35.7 billion, is more than equipped to satisfy the demands of its workers, and should do so soon to facilitate the smooth running of its campus during this Fall semester.
In anticipation of the strike, Harvard allegedly stockpiled three days’ worth of frozen food, but officials never expected the strike to last so long. The university has had to rely on volunteer employees to work the dining halls and has been offering reduced food options as well as boxed lunches.
Harvard’s half-hearted attempts to function without its workers have not gone unnoticed. Students have spoken out saying that they are eating undercooked meals prepared by untrained workers. There have also been complaints that the volunteer staff pay no attention to allergies.
With such a large endowment, asking employees and volunteers to work for free while the strike blows over is not a good look for the renowned member of the Ivy League. Harvard will have to give in to the demands of the union soon to save face, but also because the workers are backed up by all of the other Harvard employee unions. They also gained the support of the students who are currently attending the university.
“They’ve actually been feeding the strikers,” said Tiffany Ten Eyck, a spokesperson for Local 26. “For the first few days we had about 16 picket lines out across campus. Students have been out feeding workers who typically feed them.”
Although Harvard students support the strike, the movement should not be their main concern. Students should focus more on preparing for midterms. According to freshman Sofia Garcia, the strike’s purpose is understood , but at the moment, students should not have to worry about from where their food is coming. Likewise, Harvard should be focusing on more important matters rather than continually denying the demands of their workers without cause.