CAMBRIDGE (CBS/AP) — Dining hall workers at Harvard University have gone on strike over wages and health care benefits.
Dozens of workers began picketing at the Ivy League school at 6 a.m. Wednesday morning outside Harvard’s freshmen dining hall, chanting and
The strike started after months of negotiations by the dining workers’ union, Unite Here Local 26, and Harvard administrators, failed to lead to a new contract.
The union says the university’s health care proposals are unaffordable to the workers. The university says the workers already receive generous wages and benefits when compared to other food service workers in the region and that changes to health plans are “modest.”
“Harvard deeply values the contributions of its dining services employees, as evidenced by the fact that they receive some of the most generous hourly wages and benefits for food service workers in the region,” the university said in a statement Wednesday. “The fact that the average tenure of a Harvard dining hall worker is 12 years is a testament to the quality of work opportunities here.”
Michael Kramer, chief contract negotiator for the union, said the workers will be on strike “for as long as it takes” to get a response for their demands.
“It’s a $40 billion institution,” Kramer said. “Workers should have affordable healthcare.”
The union wants workers to make at least $35,000 a year.
Harvard said workers make $22/hour, among the highest in the region–but that’s only when school is in session.
On Monday, the university said, they made an offer to the union of minor modifications to the current health insurance plan, an increase in wages from $21.89/hour to $24.08/hour, and a summer stipend of $150/week for employees with 5-20 years of service, and $250/week for those with more than 20 years of service.
The university said that offer was rejected.
A worker who was recently diagnosed with diabetes told WBZ NewsRadio 1030’s Kim Tunnicliffe that, under Harvard’s proposal, her health care costs would skyrocket.
“I would have to pay $100 to pay an endocrinologist, $100 to see a nutritionist,” she said. “And I have a 14-year-old son, and I’m a single mom.”
“I have an 8-year-old and a 2-year-old,” said another worker. “My husband actually works here too, so it’s the two of us. So if the insurance goes up, we won’t be able to afford to take care of them and take them to the hospital.”
One student said she supported the workers Wednesday.
“It’s really unfair of Harvard to be shifting the burden of these higher health care costs onto the hardest-working, but some of the lowest-compensated,” she said. “We’re slightly inconvenienced, but that’s OK with us as long as the workers get the health care they deserve.”
Some Harvard dining halls remain open and the university says it has a contingency plan to make sure that all students are fed.
The Harvard Crimson reports that this is the first time in the union’s history that workers have walked off the job during the school year.
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WBZ NewsRadio 1030’s Kim Tunnicliffe reports