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News :: Labor : Organizing
Fifth Day of Hunger Strike: Harvard President’s Administration Vacates the Premises
07 May 2007
Cambridge, Mass.—On the fifth day of the students hunger strike at Harvard to pressure its administration to raise security guards pay, protesters found the President’s Office empty guarded by two university police. The students were not allowed to speak to university officials nor enter the building as there was no one there to meet them, yet they left behind a 24-page report detailing the Harvard Stand for Security Campaign. A banner that read “Living Wage Now” hung undisturbed from the third floor, as the students vowed to return. “Two more days of rational discourse and then it’s irrational action,” voiced one of the hunger strikers to the crowd gathered there in support.
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“Although there’s a few of us who haven’t eaten for days, I want to remind people that this really isn’t about us. It’s not that big of a sacrifice. This is for security officers who have been fighting this fight for 15 years,” said a member of the Student Labor Action Movement (SLAM). According to their report, it was in 1992 when Harvard began outsourcing security guards to various subcontracting groups and since then, the university has consistently stood behind AlliedBarton, a private security officers contractor, by remaining neutral in the guards struggle to unionize and fight for better wages.

The Stand for Security Coalition, made up of 26 student groups, say that security guards at Harvard are working in an environment of fear and intimidation. In December 2006, the guards successfully organized under SEIU Local 615 and entered collective bargaining in March of 2007. However, as many as four outsourced guards, active in the SEIU unionizing campaign, were terminated in the past months by AlliedBarton, allegedly in relation to their union activity. There has also been a recent spike in disciplinary citations against guards active in the union drive.

“To tell you the truth I’m pretty scared,” said a security guard who preferred to remain anonymous and was standing with a raised fist carefully at a distance from the rally. “If it has to come to a strike, it has to. But I’m pretty scared. I don’t want to have to become a scab, you know?”

“Security guards' agreement with their employer must represent a balance of considerations that the parties themselves are best-positioned to resolve. Harvard should not, need not, and will not intervene in this process,” wrote Marilyn Hausammann, vice president of human resources, for an op-ed piece for The Harvard Crimson daily today. She added the administration has asked for an updated audit of Allied Barton to see if the company is complying with Harvard’s Wage and Benefit Parity Policy (WBPP), which requires that subcontracted firms provide outsourced workers with wages and benefits comparable to in-house workers performing similar duties. The audit is expected to be completed in the coming weeks.

The students claim that Harvard has consistently created structural divides between workers and themselves by outsourcing non-clerical services and demand that the University should strenghthen its relationship with the guards’ union in its collective bargaining. The Crimson editorial staff agrees although it does not approve of the students’ “widly innappropriate” and “extreme tactic” of pressuring Harvard with a hunger strike. “But regardless of who is right, the devil is in the details, and the AlliedBarton contract deserves Harvard’s highest scrutiny,” read their editorial.

“Some have called this hunger strike extreme,” wrote the students on their hunger strike information packet, “For guards, the situation is extreme. A guard’s being forced to choose between paying his rent and paying for his heart medication is extreme. A guard’s spending four hours a day commuting to affordable housing when he could be with his family is extreme. Poverty wages at the world’s richest university are extreme. Our actions call for the recognition of such extremity.”

“I’m a really close friend with the security guard in my building, and I’m striking for his family and children. I won’t eat until we all eat,” said Claire Provost, a Harvard senior and hunger striker herself. She said that when she attempted to discuss the situation with some of the guards at the Graduate School of Design and the brand new Center for Government and International Studies buildings on Cambridge Street, she was followed around by the building management making the guards uncomfortable about talking to her.

And yet, some guards have talked and given personal testimony of their struggle as seen by public statements included on the Stand for Security web site. Perhaps it is because these students have taken the time to listen to their personal stories, that they have taken their labor struggle to heart.

Harvard Stand for Security Campaign report:
http://www.stand4security.org/pressPack050607.pdf

The Crimson opinion pages:
http://www.thecrimson.com/opinion.aspx

Stand for Security blogspot:
http://stand4security.blogspot.com/
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