Crimson living wage: 40 cents and a stretch

BY MIKE WISER

Just as the media attention that Harvard University received during last spring’s Living Wage protest was dying down, another controversy exploded when the Boston Globe reported that the Harvard Crimson had signed a $45,000 contract to have two-dozen Cambodian workers working at 40 cents an hour typeset old copies of their issues for a digital archive.

The contract was part of a $500,000 project to digitize 128-years worth of articles from the independent, student-run Harvard newspaper. The workers in Cambodia will enter text from the 1873 through 1899 editions of the Crimson. Meanwhile, the newspaper has contracted with monks in India to typeset the 20th Century editions.

The Crimson reported that its president, C. Matthew MacInnis, said the non-profit company they contracted with would not be running a sweatshop. “The non-profit we have hired not only pays over five times more than so-called poverty wages in Cambodia, it also provides health benefits, free English language lessons, breaks for employees as they see fit, and even has people lead typists in stretching exercises to prevent RSI [Repetitive Stress Injury],” he told the paper.

Reaction was harsh after the story initially appeared in the July 24th edition of the Boston Globe. The paper, for example, appeared in the Washington Time’s “Nobles and Knaves” column for “its living example of high-handed, low-wage hypocrisy.” The paper argued that after supporting a living wage for Harvard employees, it was hypocritical to pay disabled employees in a third-world country 40 cents an hour. The New York Post was even critical of MacInnis’ comment about stretching exercises. It wrote, “A group of Indian Monks who are typesetting the Crimson’s 20th Century editions presumably will be treated with the same paternalistic concern.”

Because the controversy broke over the summer, it is hard to gage reaction on campus. While there was outrage from a number of students involved in the Living Wage Campaign, other students have accepted the paper’s claim that the contract will be good for the Cambodian employees.

Steve Hely and Dan Lienert, two members of the Harvard Lampoon, focused on an overlooked aspect of the debate when they wrote an editorial for the Boston Globe. Hely and Lienert noted that, “While toiling for pennies might seem like punishment enough, workers will be forced to sift through editorials about campus politics written by obnoxious Exeter graduates, garbled comments on Red Sox games written by nerds who never played Little League and feature stories about how hard the work is in Economics 10.”

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