US Representative Joseph P. Kennedy III marched in solidarity with striking Harvard University graduate student workers on Saturday morning, supporting their demands for better pay and benefits and greater protections against sexual harassment and discrimination.
“He seemed very interested in hearing about the issues that we’re facing on campus, issues around pay, around health care. . . . He said he was with us every step of the way and wanted to know what he could do to help,” said Lee Kennedy-Shaffer, 28, a member of the Harvard Graduate Students Union’s bargaining committee and a fourth-year doctoral student in biostatistics at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
Kennedy-Shaffer, who is not related to the congressman, is among about 4,000 graduate students who work on campus, teaching courses and grading assignments, conducting research in laboratories, and supporting many of Harvard’s basic functions. After more than a year of negotiations with Harvard administrators, and after striking since Dec. 3, they are fed up, he said.
“It’s really frustrating, after all this time of negotiating and now almost two full weeks of striking, to not have heard any new proposals from the administration,” Kennedy-Shaffer said.
“It’s frustrating dealing with the administration, but inspiring to really see this movement taking hold.”
Kennedy, a 2009 graduate of Harvard Law School, joined 15 to 20 union members for about half an hour Saturday at one of several campus locations where they have picketed since the strike began.
The congressman marched alongside striking workers in the chill morning rain for about 10 minutes, Kennedy-Shaffer said, and spoke with members of the bargaining committee about the state of negotiations and with other union members about the issues that drove them to strike.
Kennedy is one of many elected officials who have pledged solidarity with the graduate students union. On Monday, US Representatives Ayanna Pressley and Katherine Clark, both of Massachusetts, joined strikers on campus.
“We really appreciate all the outside support we’ve been getting from people in Congress, presidential candidates, as well as local elected officials,” Kennedy-Shaffer said, adding that many other unions and community organizations have also allied themselves with the striking graduate students.
Both Kennedy and the striking students paid little attention to Saturday morning’s damp weather, Kennedy-Shaffer said.
“We’ve been out in all kinds of weather over the last two weeks, in rain and cold and snow, so this wasn’t the worst we’ve seen,” he said.