BY HANK REICHMAN
Today Harvard University entered the seventh day of its standoff with striking dining hall workers, who have walked out for the first time in over 30 years. The cafeteria staff are demanding affordable health care and base pay of $35,000 for year-round workers. But while low-paid dining hall workers strike, the wealthiest university in the world is recruiting scabs to take their jobs. And Harvard won’t even pay them!
The university is “actively seeking for volunteers all across campus,” an email from Harvard’s Campus Services implored. The email, obtained by the Harvard Crimson, clarified that only employees who were not paid hourly and did not qualify for overtime would be allowed to work for free in the dining halls. Sandra Parada, a staff assistant for Harvard’s Campus Services responsible for coordinating volunteers, wrote in an email that Harvard is “actively seeking for volunteers all across campus.” Faculty of Arts and Sciences Dean of Administration and Finance Leslie A. Kirwan sent an email to FAS department administrators requesting exempt staff, which apparently would include faculty members, to aid dining hall managers as the strike continues. “The dining halls are being staffed by HUDS managers, supplemented by Harvard colleagues from around the University who are pitching in to help with a shift or two,” Kirwan wrote. “If you, or exempt staff in your department, are able to suspend some of your regular duties and instead lend a hand to HUDS, I know they would be most grateful.”
“As we speak, I am receiving emails from colleagues offering to lend HUDS a hand,” Parada wrote.
Itzel Vasquez-Rodriguez, a Harvard senior and activist with the Student Labor Action Movement, said the call for strikebreakers has been largely laughed down on the liberal campus. “I know some people have refused because they’re supportive of the strike,” she said. “They’re really angry at Harvard for letting it go this far.”
“Dining hall workers feel like they have really modest demands,” Tiffany Ten Eyck, a spokesperson for Local 26, the Boston-based union that represents Harvard dining hall workers, said. “Especially because Harvard has the resources that it does.” But Eyck said Harvard administrators might be starting to cave on the strike’s sixth day. The dining hall workers have the backing of all other Harvard employee unions, whose members aren’t about to volunteer as strikebreakers. And Harvard’s students are sticking by the striking workers.
“They’ve actually been feeding the strikers,” Eyck said. “For the first few days we had about 16 picket lines out across campus. Students have been out feeding workers who typically feed them.” As an article in The Nation concluded, “While Harvard remains the bastion of the country’s future elites, the political climate galvanized by the strike suggests the students would rather stand on the picket line with the workers they live and eat with every day than with their school’s ‘greedy side.'”
I certainly hope that’s true of Harvard faculty members, themselves an elite within our profession, as well.