Class struggle on Harvard campus: Dining workers announce strike vote
Cambridge, MA – The union of the 750 food service workers at Harvard University held a briefing and rally on Sept. 7 to announce their intent to hold a strike vote. The union, UNITE HERE Local 26, has been in negotiations with the university administration since late May, and workers say that little progress has been made on their two major issues.
One of the Harvard workers’ primary concerns is a management proposal to increase their health insurance costs. Similar increases were imposed on Harvard faculty and agreed to by some of the other unions at the university. The dining services workers have rejected this proposal because of the devastating effect that it could have on workers’ health.
Anabella Pappas, a member of the union’s bargaining committee, said during the briefing that university proposed co-pay increases would mean that “many of us will have no choice but to neglect to go to the doctor.” A group of Harvard Medical School students stood beside workers at the briefing and voiced their support for their struggle, arguing that from a medical perspective, the insurance plans being forced on Harvard’s workers are some of the worst in the country and would reduce access to preventative and life-saving medical treatment.
In addition to fighting against health insurance takebacks, the union is also fighting to secure a minimum annual income of $35,000 for Harvard workers. Many of the dining service workers are laid off for four months out of every year- when students are on summer holiday – and are barred from collecting unemployment during that time. Laquiesha Rainey, another member of the bargaining committee, described the hope for a better life that she felt when she got a job at a prestigious university. These hopes were soon dashed by the reality of cyclical layoffs. “I can’t feed my daughter off of prestige,” Rainey said. “I fail to understand how the richest university in the world can’t provide workers with a minimum of $35,000 a year.”
As the Harvard workers spoke, they were surrounded by a wall of photographs of workers who have committed to strike, if necessary. Organizers said there were over 600 photographs. Following the announcement of the Sept. 15 strike vote, workers and students took the wall of photographs and marched through Harvard Yard. Students across the Harvard system have also been organizing in support of the workers’ decision to strike.
Collin Poirot, a second year student at Harvard Law School, said that it is especially important for students to show up in support of staff. “We’re here to show the university administration that students and workers are united, and that we will always have the backs of Harvard workers, just as they have always had ours.”
No strike date has been announced, but the struggle on Harvard’s campus is likely to intensify in the weeks ahead.