It's a '60s reprise: Harvard students seize building
'Living wage' for workers demanded
By JUSTIN POPE, Associated Press writer
Thursday, April 26, 2001
CAMBRIDGE, Mass. With chanting on campus and unshaven students leaning out
the windows of an occupied building, Harvard University has the feeling of
the 1960s this week.
More than three dozen students have occupied the office of university
president Neil Rudenstine since April 18. They are demanding "a living
wage" for Harvard's custodians, cooks and other blue-collar workers.
"With a $19 billion endowment and a governing board of multimillionaires,
Harvard has no excuse for perpetuating poverty conditions," Aaron Bartley,
a 25-year-old law student, said from an open window of the administration
building during a rally Tuesday.
Harvard wasn't the only campus with student demonstrations this week. At
Penn State University, more than 100 students spent the night at a student
union building protesting reported death threats against the Black Caucus
The Harvard students say they won't leave until the university commits to
improving workers' wages. The university says it believes in fair wages but
won't break collective bargaining agreements or negotiate as long as
Massachusetts Hall remains occupied.
The occupation has kept Rudenstine and other top officials from their offices.
The protests have brought a tent city to Harvard Yard and a string of
Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., and former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich
stopped by last week to show support for the students.
Students want Harvard's laborers to make $10.25 an hour, the same minimum
wage the city of Cambridge pays its employees. Some subcontracted workers
at the university make as little as $6.50 an hour.
Harvard says only about 400 of its 13,000 employees make less than $10 an
hour. Last spring, a university committee recommended Harvard focus on
improving career opportunities for its lower-paid workers, through
job-skills training, rather than set a minimum wage.
"In the long run, we think that's a better solution," university spokesman
Joe Wrinn said Tuesday.
Lenvial Cole, a custodian working on campus Tuesday, said he appreciated
the students' efforts but worried that their protest could be misguided.
"There are contractors out there who are asking for less, and that might
persuade (Harvard) to get us out of here," Cole said.
At Penn State, protesters spent the night at the Hetzel Union Building and
met Wednesday with university administrators over recent racial death
threats to Black Caucus president LaKeisha Wolf.
Black Caucus members say the university's failure to embrace diversity has
created a climate where people feel safe expressing racist thoughts.
Last week, an anonymous letter sent to a reporter at the campus newspaper,
The Daily Collegian, included a death threat against Wolf and a threat to
bomb a ceremony honoring black graduates. Federal, state and local law
enforcement agencies are investigating.
"I'm going to stay as long as I have to," student Karissa Burns said
Wednesday. "If my life is in danger, then this is what I'm going to do.
It's that important."
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