Boston City Council Supports Striking Harvard Dining Workers

Harvard Dining Hall Workers filled the city council chambers in support of the council's resolution in solidarity in their fight against Harvard University for higher wages and maintaining affordable healthcare. Photo by Zoe Mitchell/BU News Service
Written by Zoë Mitchell

By Zoë Mitchell
BU News Service

The Boston City Council unanimously passed a resolution supporting the Harvard dining employees yesterday, who have been on strike for three weeks demanding stable employment, affordable healthcare, and higher wages from Harvard University.

The workers, who are represented by UNITE-HERE Local 26, crowded into the council chambers in support of the resolution.

City Council President Michelle Wu sponsored the resolution. Wu is a graduate of Harvard University and said she had fond memories of the dining hall workers as a student.

“When I arrived at Harvard as a college freshman, the first time I was away from my family for any extended period of time, the dining hall workers truly became my family away from home,” Wu said.

Councillor Josh Zakim expressed surprise that the university refused to provide the workers with the $35,000 they demanded, pointing out that the amount was just one-one millionth of the school’s total endowment.

“They do a lot of good, but they are not doing good today,” Zakim said.

Councillors Tito Jackson and Ayanna Pressley pointed out the hypocrisy in Harvard accepting $10 million dollars to study poverty and refusing to raise the wages of their workers.

“We implore you, Harvard, to please stop studying poverty and to take your rightful leadership place and do something to prevent it,” said Pressley.

The workers, who were repeatedly silenced for clapping and cheering as the councillors spoke, were pleased about the council’s support.

“I think it will help. It will open the eyes of Harvard. The support is not just from the workers, but from the Council, other community members” said Maria Vaquerano, a Harvard dining hall worker.

UNITE-HERE Local 26 have been on strike since Oct. 6 after failing to reach an agreement with Harvard over their employment contracts. They want dining hall workers annual salaries to be $35,000 a year and they want to maintain their current healthcare.

They say that the new healthcare plan proposed by Harvard is too expensive for workers.

The workers also requested income support over the summers, when there are less dining hall shifts available for workers. Because they are directly employed by Harvard, workers are not eligible for unemployment benefits during the recesses.

Harvard University, in a letter addressed to members of the Harvard Community last week, defended their current pay rate and health care plan.

They wrote that the average wage of the dining workers, which is $21.28 per hour, is top of market in Boston and higher than the Cambridge living wage, which is at $15.04.

They also defended the health care options offered to the workers, saying that the plan had been acceptable to unions representing over 5,000 other employees on campus. They criticized the union, saying that they have “refused to participate in any meaningful dialogue towards a resolution.”

The council members said they would join the strikers at protests and will forward a copy of the resolution to Harvard University.

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