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Harvard chided by City Council over dining hall worker pay

Dozens of dining hall workers from Harvard University packed the gallery at Boston City Hall Wednesday as councilors threw their support behind the workers’ ongoing strike and called on the university to increase their wages.

“I wouldn’t go to Harvard if I could get in for free,” said at-large Councilor Michael Flaherty.

“We implore you, Harvard, to stop studying poverty and to take your rightful leadership place in doing something to prevent it,” said Ayanna Pressley, another at-large councilor.

The City Council unanimously voted to adopt a resolution of support for the workers, which was introduced by City Council President Michelle Wu, a Harvard alumna.


The average salary for the workers, according to Wu, is $33,000. On Oct. 5, the employees walked out after several months of unsuccessful contract negotiations with the school.

Harvard, the richest institution of higher learning in the world, has an endowment of about $35 billion — more than 10 times the size of the City of Boston’s annual budget.

A Harvard spokesperson, Tania deLuzuriaga, told the Globe that endowment and Harvard campaign funds are “largely restricted for specific academic purposes.”

“Harvard cares deeply about the well-being of our employees: that is why we pay an industry-leading wage of almost $22 an hour, offer full health benefits to employees that work as few as 16 hours per week, and provide retiree benefits like pensions and health insurance,” she said. “The University stands ready to continue to work with Local 26 and mediators to try to find a fair and reasonable resolution.”

In the hearing, Councilor Tito Jackson also mentioned how Harvard recently received millions of dollars to commission a study on Boston poverty.

“Shame on you, Harvard,” he said, for not leading by example.

Recounting her time in Cambridge, Wu said the school’s dining hall workers became her parents away from home and that they deserve to be treated as an integral part of the university.


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

In a break from council decorum, the workers vigorously applauded Wu’s speech.

There are more than 750 dining hall workers at Harvard, and many of them rallied in protest outside Boston City Hall before the hearing.

Astead W. Herndon can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @AsteadWH