Harvard labor: then and now.


In May of 2001, about 50 students occupied Massachusetts Hall. Many more gathered outside.

It was the high point of the Harvard Living Wage Campaign. As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, spokesman for the administration, Joe Wrinn claimed that there were “only seven” workers at Harvard who made less a living wage. One of the cooks turned to me and asked, “They’d let all this happen to avoid paying 7 people?”

The sit-in led to a temporary slowing down of what was then a 30 year long campaign to outsource labor. [It started with the painters in the early seventies.] N. Gregory Mankiw has been heard to characterize outsourcing of jobs as “importing service”. This is clearly not the case when Harvard outsources jobs like painters, janitors, cooks, and security guards. These jobs cannot be phoned in from Bangelore. I suppose you could clean a toilet with a remote controlled robotic arm, but I guess that’s not ready for market yet. Administration’s outsourcing is replacing employees with a living wage and benefits with contract workers who are paid less and have little if any benefits.

Also resulting from the sit-in was the formation of what was informally known as the Katz Committee to study low wage workers on the Harvard Campus. There were public hearings and meetings for a full year. The Committee was curiously able to find about 993 workers making less than the living wage that Joe Wrinn didn’t know about. That’s an error of … oh … about 14185%, but who’s counting.

In March of 2003, the chair of the committee, Professor Lawrence Katz gave a talk with slides [graphs] at the Malcolm Weiner Center for Social Policy in which he reviewed the results obtained by the Harvard Committee on Employment and Contracting Policies. Dean David Ellwood pointed out that, “administration was totally transparent about labor practices.” I objected that Joe Wrinn had said “only seven” workers below the living wage and HCECP found 1000. Somewhat testily, Dean Ellwood corrected me. I said, “administration was totally transparent DURING THE WORK OF HCECP.” It is well he take no responsibility for the “transparency” of administration during the “casual” era. This was an era almost as long as the history of HUCTW culminating in there being 2000 unbenefitted, untenured casuals filling 1000 FTE positions. There were 3000 union members at the time. One fourth of the bargaining unit jobs were filled by contingent workers. And as of the time of Dean Ellwood’s remarks, Sally Zeckhauser had caused the HCECP website to be removed after an appropriate “problem solved” posting. When I asked Professor Katz for a copy of his paper [and the graphs], he informed me that it was, “A talk, not a paper.”. It seems that the laws of economics [and supporting evidence for them] are eternal except when the application is what Harvard actually does.

The late Polly Price once remarked at the Arco Forum that Harvard is the largest [by quite a bit] employer in Cambridge and the fifth largest employer in the state. It is reasonable to ask if Harvard can reasonably be assumed to be a price taker in the local labor market. LWC presented evidence that Harvard is clearly not. Yet administration continues to justify it’s policies on the claim that it is. The HCECP claim of the necessity of retaining “market discipline” is a subtler, but equivalent claim. That was true from the moment its recommendations appeared. A separate question is the adherence to or erosion from the recommendations since then.

Jack Trumpbour writes so beautifully that it would make Hemingway cry. Hemingway once said, “I’ve never yet known a good writer that was also a good talker.” That’s Jack. But if you read his book,
How Harvard Rules: Reason in the Service of Empire,” you’ll probably want to talk to him. Only once has he disappointed me and I think it’s repairable. He said something like every time we get a victory they take it back later. You’re surprised by this? Administrators spend all their time excercising and trying to extend their power. The rest of us have better things to do. We express our power when we feel we have no other choice. As long as administration and the Fellows operate like a black hole for information, there will be constant recidivism. We must recharter the University.

So what is the status now of low wage workers at Harvard?

It’s a nice day out. Why don’t y’all go for a walk in the yard late afternoon.



In her own word and images.
Fire at Johnston Gate.

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