Harvard University on Tuesday reached a tentative agreement with its dining hall workers, bringing the two sides closer to a new contract after weeks of strikes and months of negotiations.
The agreement, struck around 1 a.m., arrived a day after an estimated 600 students walked out of class in support of the food service workers, who have been on strike since the beginning of the month. At least 250 of those students staged a sit-in at the administration building where negotiations were being held, remaining in the lobby well into the evening.
On Tuesday, Katie Lapp, executive vice president at Harvard, said the university and UNITE HERE Local 26, which represents 750 Harvard food service employees, had come to terms on a new five-year contract. In an email addressed to the Harvard community, Lapp said the agreement “represents a fair and reasonable resolution” and addresses the main issues of wages and health care.
“This has been a challenging period for many members of the Harvard community. Faculty, students, staff, and alumni have been affected by the protracted negotiation and work stoppage,” Knapp said. “The University has been unequivocal in its belief that dining services workers are valued employees and vital members of the Harvard community. We look forward to welcoming them back to work as soon as possible.”
The university referred all questions about the fine points of the contract to the union, which said further details of the agreement will be disclosed on Wednesday after members have a chance to vote on the contract.
Brian Lang, president of UNITE HERE Local 26, said the agreement “addresses all of the concerns of our more than 700 members on strike.” He added that the strike will continue until all members have a chance to review the agreement and vote to ratify.
Dining hall employees have been fighting for a wage increase and to keep health-care costs down. They work only eight months of the year when all of the dining halls are open, making an average of $21.89 an hour, or $33,800 a year. The union has been asking for an annual salary of $35,000 for employees who want to work the entire year in the dining halls that remain open.
University officials 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 said proposed changes to the workers’ health-care plan, increasing out-of-pocket expenses for doctor visits, were modest, especially since the university would cover 87 percent of the premiums for workers earning less than $55,000. But workers contended that only younger, healthy workers with minimal heath-care needs would benefit from that plan.
It has been 33 years since Harvard employees last elected to strike. The current action, the first held during the academic year, led the university to close some facilities. In anticipation of the strike, students stocked up on food in the dining halls, although the university extended the hours of operation at several halls.
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