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Harvard Living Wage Campaign: AFL-CIO Chief Joins Protest
Published on Tuesday, May 1, 2001 in the Chicago Tribune
Harvard Living Wage Campaign Sit-In
AFL-CIO Chief Joins Protest at Harvard
The Harvard Living Wage Campaign website:
www.livingwagenow.com
 
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 wage."

"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.

Harvard Living Wage Campaign
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)
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.

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 an hour.

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 legislation.

The U.S. government sets the national minimum wage, which stands at $5.15 an hour

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 building.

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 cell phones.

"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 are held.

Copyright 2001 Chicago Tribune

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