Harvard Dining Service Workers Say They 'Achieved Every Goal' With New Contract

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Harvard University food service workers picketing on Oct. 5. The workers' union voted on a new agreement with the university on Oct. 26. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
Harvard University food service workers picketing on Oct. 5. The workers' union voted on a new agreement with the university on Oct. 26. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

Harvard University's dining service workers expect to be back on the job Thursday morning.

A spokesperson for UNITED HERE Local 26, the union representing the workers, said Wednesday afternoon that workers ratified a new contract with the university by a vote of 583 to 1.

Harvard said its dining services will resume full operations over the next few days and looks forward to welcoming its dining services employees back to campus. The university said it is "pleased" that workers have ratified the contract.

The university calls the contract "a reasonable resolution to negotiations."

As workers were still voting inside the First Parish Church, across the street from Harvard, union president Brian Lang was outside, addressing a rally of those who had already cast their ballot.

"I can report coming out of our contract ratification meeting that we achieved every goal without exception, with no concessions to Harvard," Lang said.

The issue of greatest contention during the negotiations was health care costs. Under the agreement reached with Harvard, the union says there will be no change to the health care plan for the first two years of the five-year deal. Lang says in 2019, Harvard will raise co-pays for visits to doctors and emergency rooms.

"However, only under the conditions, which they agreed to, that they'd pay for any additional costs for the members of Local 26 who work in dining services," Lang said.

Lang says Harvard will offer something similar to a debit card used by workers when they go to the doctor or the emergency room.

"An amount equal to the difference between what they currently pay and what the new co-pay is will be deducted, but from the debit card," Lang said, a debit card funded by Harvard.

Harvard said the agreement addresses the "health insurance plan design changes sought by the University at a time of constrained resources."

Harvard lost almost $2 billion in its endowment in its last fiscal year, which ended on June 30. That's the largest loss since the financial crisis. Still, the endowment was worth $35.7 billion at the end of the fiscal year.


The university said the changes in the health plan design starting in 2019 are "consistent with those agreed to by other unions on campus."

"Harvard will protect lower-wage workers from burdensome cost increases by seeding flexible savings accounts and out-of-pocket reimbursement funds through 2021," the statement continued.

According to the union, Harvard would also pay additional compensation over the summer to offset seasonal layoffs when the dining halls are closed.

Standing with other workers at the rally, Aurora Diaz said it was tough being on strike.

"I mean, I've been here 32 years, and I never went through this before, so it's worse than being at work, let me tell you that," she said.

Another dining worker, Sandy Lui, said she feels supported by the union and the Harvard community.

"I also say thank you to the students," she said. "Thank you to everyone who support us."

The agreement also found support among some faculty, including Kristen Weld, a social sciences professor.

"Harvard therefore is showing that it's going to take dining hall workers seriously as members of this community, and I think that that's an important statement not just on this campus, but for university campuses across this country," Weld said.

Students, too, were there to lend their support.

"We are so happy for workers," sophomore Grace Evans said. "This is their win, and I personally am so gratified to have witnessed it, and I think that this strike -- one upshot — what has been a really tough and troubling set of weeks, is that it has really brought workers from all different houses together and also students and workers from all different parts of campus together, and I think that's been really beautiful to see."

Harvard is not alone in difficult labor negotiations. Union president Brian Lang predicts his next battle is at Northeastern University. And on Thursday Tufts janitors vote on whether they go on strike.

This article was originally published on October 26, 2016.

This segment aired on October 26, 2016.


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Fred Thys Reporter
Fred Thys reported on politics and higher education for WBUR.



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