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Harvard students stage sit-in for striking dining hall workers

Harvard dining hall workers went out on strike earlier this month, picketing next to Memorial Hall/Annenberg Hall.
Harvard dining hall workers went out on strike earlier this month, picketing next to Memorial Hall/Annenberg Hall.Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff/File 2016

About 100 Harvard University students walked out of classes Monday afternoon and staged a sit-in in the lobby of the Cambridge office building where negotiations between administrators and the union representing the school’s striking dining hall workers were taking place.

The students, part of a group of more than 300 people that joined the protest, occupied the lobby at 124 Mount Auburn St. just before 3 p.m., pressing the university to meet the demands of the workers. The organizers, the Harvard Student Labor Action Movement (SLAM), said students originally intended to occupy the lobby only until 5 p.m., when negotiations were scheduled to end, but stayed beyond that as talks continued.

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But both sides continued to meet well into the evening hours after a 2 p.m. start. That followed an 8-hour session on Sunday that yielded no results, said Brian Lang, president of UNITE HERE Local 26, the union representing the food service workers.

A union representative at the negotiations Monday came down to let the students know that progress was being made and urged them to continue the sit-in, said Itzel Vasquez-Rodriguez, a Harvard senior and one of the walkout organizers.

“Harvard students are angry that the administration continues to prioritize money over people,” SLAM organizers said in a statement.

About 750 Harvard food service workers went on strike Oct. 5. The workers want Harvard to commit to paying annual wages of at least $35,000 for full-time workers and to absorb proposed health insurance cost increases instead of passing them on to the workers.

Vasquez-Rodriguez said only students occupied the lobby because striking dining hall workers were not allowed inside during the negotiations. This was the second walkout organized by SLAM in solidarity with the workers.

“We want to do it bigger and better this time to put more pressure on the administration,” she said. “It was just a beautiful thing to see students walk out of class to show we’re one community and stand together at this time.”

Lang said support from students and the community has been “very, very positive.”

“I think people get it; it’s overwhelming,” Lang said. “We don’t run into people saying we should leave Harvard alone, or we should cut Harvard a break.”

Harvard has closed about half of its dining halls as a result of the strike, now nearing the three-week mark. Negotiations have been led by mediators since the start of the job action.

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“This prolonged work stoppage has affected our entire community, including dining service colleagues,” Harvard spokeswoman Tania deLuzuriaga said in a statement. “We will continue to work towards a fair resolution that meets the needs of our employees, and hope to soon welcome them back to campus.”


Katheleen Conti can be reached at kconti@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @GlobeKConti.