Main Menu · Search · Current Issue · Contact · Archives · Centennial · Letters to the Editor · FAQs
Much of the heavy Commencement week foot traffic through the Science Center paused before an unusual exhibit (at upper right) mounted by Gregory Halpern '99. As part of an independent study this spring, Halpern interviewed 25 Harvard line employees, including food-service workers, custodians, security guards, and mail-service employees. He enlarged selected passages from five interviews to poster size, enabling a few of the University's blue-collar workers to talk about their jobs and their pay from the walls of a centrally located Harvard building.
"They want to outsource all security jobs to the Pinkertons or some other private security agency," runs a quote from "David," a museum guard. "They could have Pinkertons in there tomorrow and pay them $6 an hour with no benefits. But Pinkertons won't care about the art. I think every guard should be paid at least $15 an hour with medical benefits, and we should have staff IDs with access to the gym and libraries so that we could check books out and educate ourselves about the art we guard."
Such personal histories moved Halpern to join the Living Wage Campaign, a student movement whose roughly 50 members pushed this spring to establish a minimum "living wage" of $10 per hour for all University employees. The University administration asserts that less than 3 percent of its 13,000 regular employees earn less than $10 per hour. The Living Wage Campaign, however, is also targeting Harvard's part-time "casual" workers and contractors; the effort is sponsored by the Harvard Progressive Student Labor Movement, which has backed recent campaigns against sexual violence and sweatshops. Although pay for its own members is not at issue, the Harvard Union of Clerical and Technical Workers supports the campaign, and the Cambridge city council weighed in by passing in May a living-wage ordinance ($10 per hour) for all municipal employees.
The federal minimum wage is $5.25 an hour. "In rural Kansas that might do. In the Boston area, that's a poverty wage," says Halpern, who, in a personal statement accompanying his exhibit, wrote, "[W]e can and should redefine the terms of our social and economic community in a way that might more equitably distribute Harvard's resources."
The living-wage issue echoed in Commencement events as well. Addressing the Kennedy School's Class Day audience on June 8, Rev. Jesse L. Jackson Sr. (at middle right) declared, "For the rich there is no ceiling, for the poor there is no floor." He assailed the "structural gap" separating wealthy and poor Americans, and commended those students who had rallied on March 9 in favor of a Harvard living wage.
On Commencement day, several dozen students and other protesters, signaled by balloon bearers (at lower right), quietly departed Tercentenary Theatre during Alan Greenspan's address and assembled at Holyoke Center to hear "alternative" speeches in support of the Harvard living-wage standard. Juliet Schor, lecturer on women's studies, told the group, "We cannot just be for change somewhere else. We need to live by principles in our own home."
Main Menu ·
Search · Current Issue · Contact · Archives · Centennial · Letters to the Editor · FAQs