CAMBRIDGE, Mass. --
AFL-CIO President John Sweeney, leader of the largest U.S. union, pledged
his support Monday to a student sit-in at Harvard University demanding that
the nation's wealthiest school provide its blue-collar workers with "a living
"There is no reason for this wealthy institution to pass along to its
workers the burden of poverty," Sweeney told the raucous crowd, estimated at
between 1,000 and 1,500 people.
"Harvard cannot afford to deny the voice of its most precious asset: its
students," Sweeney said.
Some 40 students seized Massachusetts Hall, the red brick building that
houses the university president's office, 13 days ago. Their demands center on
raising the wages of janitorial, maintenance and food services workers to
$10.25 an hour and having Harvard pay for their health insurance.
Students and faculty of Harvard University hold hands in a moment of silence in Harvard Yard in Cambridge, Mass., Monday, April 30, 2001. The protest is for a higher minimum wage for the custodian and cafeteria workers of the university. (AP Photo/Lawrence Jackson)
The students estimate there are more than 1,000 Harvard workers, either
directly employed or working through subcontractors, that do not get so-called
living-wage benefits. Harvard, which reported an endowment of $19.5 billion
last June, says no more than 400 workers on its payroll earn less than $10.25
The students' demands stem from a "Living Wage" ordinance passed two years
ago by the city of Cambridge, where Harvard is located. The law calls for all
employers to pay at least $10.25 an hour.
Labor leaders with Sweeney said 60 other municipalities had adopted similar
The U.S. government sets the national minimum wage, which stands at $5.15
But the rally came amid signs of waning support for the "living wage" issue
and the occupation of Massachusetts Hall. And it came five days before the
start of the university's reading period, leading to final exams May 14.
A recent Harvard Crimson poll of 372 students showed a 16 percentage point
decline in campus support over the "living wage" issue from a poll conducted
in January 2000.
The number of protesters inside the administration building since the
sit-in began has dwindled from 50 to 30, according to protester Aaron Bartley,
25, a third-year law student who was among those inside.
Harvard President Neil Rudenstine met briefly with the student protesters
Friday but said he would only hold talks with them after they leave the
Rudenstine had hinted that the students, who pay an estimated $30,000 a
year to attend the various university schools, could face academic sanctions.
"We have one message for President Rudenstine: It ain't over," Lynne Lyman,
the student body president of the John F. Kennedy School of Government, told
the cheering crowd.
Lyman, 28, was one of the 40 students who originally seized the building
April 18. Like her peers, she has been keeping up with classes by e-mail and
"We're a bit smelly, but morale is high," she said. Lyman was not permitted
to return to the occupied building, but she said "there's plenty of work to do
here on the outside."
Student protesters outside the building have turned Harvard Yard into a
small town of dozens of brightly colored tents where each night candle vigils
Copyright 2001 Chicago Tribune