In 583-1 vote, Harvard dining hall workers OK labor contract
Harvard University dining hall workers will return to work for Thursday morning’s breakfast shift, ending the school’s first strike in more than three decades, after they voted 583 to 1 Wednesday to approve a five-year labor contract.
Under terms of the deal, about 750 employees will receive wages of about $35,000 annually and won’t have to pay more for health insurance, according to their union, Unite Here Local 26, satisfying the major demands that led to a three-week work stoppage.
About 100 workers celebrated in Harvard Square Wednesday, chanting “Victory!” and “We love the students!” as union officials detailed the agreement.
“We achieved every goal, without exception, with no concessions to Harvard,” said union president Brian Lang. He added that the outcome means minimum annual pay of $35,000 is “the new standard for food-service workers, and we’re going to bring them out of poverty.” Local 26 represents food-service employees at several Boston-area schools.
Harvard spokeswoman Tania deLuzuriaga said in a statement that the university was pleased the workers’ new health care plan would now be consistent with the policy for other union workers on campus. She added that the workers will need to work full-time hours during the school year to make $35,000.
“The agreement addresses the wage and health insurance concerns raised by Local 26, while also achieving the affordable wages and health insurance plan design changes sought by the University at a time of constrained resources,” deLuzuriaga said.
The Harvard employees walked out Oct. 5, calling for the $35,000 annual wage floor and demanding that Harvard not go ahead with proposed changes in their existing health care coverage, which they said would increase out-of-pocket expenses.
Throughout the dispute, Harvard said health care costs are rising everywhere and that the university’s average hourly wage of $22 for dining hall workers was generous, compared with pay at other area schools.
The workers focused on annual income, since most employees aren’t given hours during summer months. They also argued that health insurance increases would further cut into their take-home pay.
The contract gives workers who are laid off between school years seasonal pay of $2,400 — a figure that will increase to $3,000 by 2020, according to the union.
Employees whose hours are reduced during the summer will receive prorated pay to make up for the lost income. Between the summer pay and an hourly wage raise, all of the Harvard workers will earn a minimum of $35,000, Lang said.
The dining hall employees will be moved into a new health care plan, but the union says the school will pay the increased costs.
As part of the agreement, a committee will be formed to address workers’ concerns about diversity and racial issues, a measure the union had also demanded.
On Tuesday, Harvard executive vice president Katie Lapp said the pact would provide “superior compensation for our dining workers” while recognizing “the importance of carefully stewarding university finances.”
During the strike, the Harvard workers won widespread support from students, faculty, alumni, the Boston and Cambridge city councils, Senator Elizabeth Warren, and celebrities such as Ben Stiller and Keegan-Michael Key.
Harvard closed nearly half of its dining halls during the work stoppage. Those that remained open were staffed by managers, temporary workers, and nonunion employees.