The historic 20-day strike organized by Harvard University dining hall workers ended on Wednesday, October 26.
Over 700 Dining hall workers at Harvard University formed a strike under UNITE HERE Local 26 after the university planned to cut health care costs and salaries. Harvard has met nearly all of the union’s demands, including raising the minimum pay for dining workers from an annual pay of $30,000 to $35,000, the requirement of Harvard to pay for any increase in healthcare co-payments, and provide fair compensation for workers who are laid off during the summer.
The president of the Harvard union, Brian Lang, has considered their strike a huge victory not only for themselves, but for working people everywhere.
“It’s a testament to when working-class people make a decision to draw a line in the sand and say enough is enough,” Lang said.
Harvard University has also granted a $3,000 stipend to dining hall employees who were laid off during the summer. The union did make one concession, however, that the salary increase would only apply to full-time employees.
The agreement between the union and Harvard University was finally reached after 1,000 workers and supporters marched to Harvard’s City Hall in Cambridge, Massachusetts over the weekend. On Monday, October 24, more than 500 students walked out of their classes and held a sit in at a Harvard office building.
One reason the strike has gained so much media attention is because the workers have had a huge backing from the students of the prestigious Ivy League school. When the strike first began in September, more than a dozen student organizations released a statement in solidarity with the dining hall workers. A petition was also started by the undergraduate Student Labor Action Movement, and received 3,000 signatures in support of the union’s demands. One organization, Reclaim Harvard Law, released a bilingual statement that addressed the issue of racial justice within the struggles that the dining hall workers were facing.
Not only did this fierce support from students help the union, but the UNITE HERE was also to send delegations from other unions across the country to get in contact with the 13 people who sit on the board of the Harvard Corporation. This tactic showed that the union was serious about their demands, and was taking the time to carefully execute plans in order to achieve their goals. At one point during the strike, one of the board members came to campus to give a presentation unrelated to the strike. Once he left the buildings, the dining hall workers followed him around chanting “shame, shame, shame on you.”
This strike has also received plenty of media attention, which could be what finally drove Harvard University to agree to the demands of their workers. The New York Times published a hugely popular essay written by Rosa Ines Rivera, one of the dining hall workers at Harvard. In her essay entitled “Struggling to Serve at Harvard,” Rivera describes losing her apartment because she couldn’t pay rent, and skipping doctor appointments to save on insurance copays.
Harvard stated that ending the strike was a “reasonable resolution” to the union’s demands. The UNITE HERE workers returned to their dining hall duties on Thursday, October 27.