An estimated 600 students at Harvard University walked out of class Monday and staged a sit-in at an administration building in support of dining hall workers who have been on strike since the beginning of the month.
“The workers are there every day, making us three meals a day, plus a night snack,” said Itzel Vasquez-Rodriguez, a senior at Harvard. “They’ve always had our back in the past, so students have increasingly felt that now it’s our turn to have their back through this fight.”
After four months of negotiations, food service workers at Harvard elected to strike over the university’s refusal to increase wages and keep health-care costs at the same level. Workers are employed only eight months of the year when all of the dining halls are open, making an average $21.89 an hour or $33,800 a year. UNITE HERE Local 26, which represents 750 Harvard food service employees, is asking for annual salary of $35,000 for employees who want to work the entire year, since some dining halls remain open.
Harvard officials have argued that their dining hall workers receive generous compensation compared with other food service workers in the region, whose median income is roughly $27,690 a year. They say proposed changes to the workers’ health-care plan, increasing out-of-pocket expenses for doctor visits, are modest, especially since the university would cover 87 percent of the premiums for workers earning less than $55,000. The union contends that only younger, healthy workers with minimal heath-care needs would benefit from that plan.
“This prolonged work stoppage has affected our entire community, including dining service colleagues,” said Harvard spokeswoman Tania deLuzuriaga. “We will continue to work towards a fair resolution that meets the needs of our employees, and hope to soon welcome them back to campus.”
Students joined workers on Monday in marching to the administration building, where the latest round of negotiations is being held. Activists say they plan to occupy the building until talks end later this evening. More than 250 students remained in the lobby of the administration building, at 124 Mount Auburn St., around 6 p.m.
The latest protest marks the second time Harvard students have walked out of class over the dining hall labor negotiations. An earlier demonstration yielded the participation of roughly 150 students, a fraction of those who showed up Monday in solidarity, according to activists from the Harvard Student Labor Action Movement.
Vasquez-Rodriguez said workers have been selfless and dedicated to students over the years. She recalls a time two years ago when cooks and servers in the dining halls remained on campus during a major snowstorm to make sure students could eat.
“They slept overnight in dining halls, stayed away from their families so they could serve students food,” she said. “We want to make sure we’re there to give all of the support that we can because we are one community, we are one Harvard.”
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