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Harvard custodians rally for paid leave and job protection for contract workers amid pandemic

Jose Alfaro, a custodian, attends a rally outside Harvard Business School demanding that Harvard University take responsibility for the jobs of all of the custodians keeping campus clean and healthy during the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic. Because of Harvard's updated pay policy announced Thursday, layoffs are likely among the 300 contracted custodians.David L. Ryan/Globe Staff

Custodians gathered outside Harvard University Friday afternoon, demanding the school do more to protect jobs held by contract workers during the pandemic.

Harvard will soon stop offering its contractors paid leave after it updated its policy Thursday. According to the worker group, of the roughly 700 custodians on campus, about 300 are contractors, while the remaining 400 are employed by the school.

Since March, Harvard has paid regular salaries and benefits to both types of workers while they have been out of work due to the pandemic. But in the Thursday update, Katie Lapp, Harvard’s executive vice president, wrote that “there are limits to our ability to do so indefinitely," which is why the school amended the policy.


Because of Harvard's updated pay policy announced Thursday, layoffs are possible among the 300 contracted custodians.David L. Ryan/Globe Staff

With much of Harvard continuing a remote learning model for the spring semester, workers worry some of the 300 contracted custodians could be laid off once they stop receiving benefits. Harvard said the new paid leave policy will go into effect in January 2021.

Lapp also wrote that the school “will continue to assess their staffing needs and financial situations as the fiscal year unfolds.”

Friday’s rally happened amid ongoing negotiations between Harvard and the union that represents its service workers.

“During this pandemic, all workers should be afforded the same COVID protections so they can take care of themselves and their families, regardless of whether they’re employed by Harvard or by an independent contractor,” said Roxana Rivera, vice president of 32BJ SEIU in a press release. “We’re disappointed that the University wants to reverse its policy covering contracted workers as we enter a second surge of COVID-19.”

Updated to include Harvard comments and context around its policies.

Anissa Gardizy can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @anissagardizy8 and on Instagram @anissagardizy.journalism.