Harvard students risked life and limb yesterday in a mass protest yesterday on Harvard Square, some sitting in front of oncoming traffic. The protesters, made up of members of the Progressive Student Labor Movement (PSLM), Justice for Janitors and their supporters, gathered to demand higher wages for the university’s janitors and staff.
“We’ve collected 500 names on sign-in sheets and we counted about 700 people there,” said Matthew Skomarovsky, a member of PSLM.
But, Dhiraj Thapa, a manager at the Harvard Square Au Bon Pain said, “There were a little over 100 people there.”
The protest lasted for a little over 45 minutes, according to Skomarovsky and included a march from the Holyoke Center, Harvard’s main administrative building to Mass Hall, where the President’s office is and then back to the Holyoke Center.
Nine people sitting in traffic were promptly arrested.
“The Cambridge police acted pretty quickly but traffic was stopped for about five minutes,” Skomarovsky said.
The students were arrested and held for two and a half hours before they were charged on two counts, both misdemeanors related to obstructing traffic. They have a court date set for tomorrow.
Four of the nine people arrested were Harvard students.
One of the students arrested, Maddy Elfenbein, said she volunteered to be one of those who would sit in traffic and probably be arrested because she “realized that this was an important action that would demonstrate the force of our demands.”
“I risk so little in comparison to the janitors that it seemed obvious that I would volunteer,” she said.
The protest came as negotiations between Harvard and the Service Employees International Union Local 254 entered their sixth week.
On Dec. 19 the Harvard Committee on Employee and Contracting Policies called for hourly wages to be raised to somewhere between $10.83 and $11.30. The workers, however, are asking for $14.
“We decided to have this protest to let the university know that the community rejects their offer of continual poverty wages for the 600 janitors,” Elfenbein said.
Skomarovsky added that Harvard’s treatment of its staff is particularly atrocious because it is Harvard [University].
“Harvard has treated its workers particularly badly. Other schools in the Boston area, such as MIT and Boston University, pay about $14 an hour. These are universities that have endowments that pale in comparison to Harvard’s $20 billion,” he said.
“It’s hard to understand why Harvard would continue to keep the bottom line down to save what it really a drop in the bucket for them,” Skomarovsky added.
Archived article by