University staff wages ‘fall short,’ employment committee reports

BY MIKE WISER

Exactly eight months after students from the Living Wage Campaign began an almost month-long occupation of Mass-achusetts Hall, a committee examining the University’s employment practices issued a report concluding that “Har-vard’s current wage and contracting practices for lower-paid service workers fall short of meeting the University’s appropriate goal of being a good employer.”

The Harvard Committee on Employment and Contracting Policies (HCECP), chaired by Economics Professor Lawrence Katz, also called on the University to immediately raise pay for the lowest-paid service employees, ensure parity wages and benefits for Harvard’s employees and employees of contractors, and strengthen the code of conduct for service contractors. While the report’s findings and recommendations were unanimously adopted by the committee of faculty, staff, students and administrators, a number of members criticized the report for not going far enough and failing to recommend an absolute minimum wage floor. President Lawrence Summers has taken the report under advisement and has promised to “move promptly to implement appropriate measures.”

Research and recommendations

Using the City of Cambridge’s Living Wage ordinance as a benchmark, the Katz committee found that Harvard and its contractors employed 971 on-site employees who made less than $10.68 an hour. Of these workers, 392 were employed directly by Harvard. According to the committee, wages have been driven down as the University turns to more and more outside contractors.

The competition between contractors and in-house employees, the committee said, resulted in a sometimes dramatic drop in wages for Harvard employees. For example, the real wages of custodians declined by 13 percent between September 1994 and September of this year. The drop, according to the report, was a result of Harvard’s in-house custodial services trying to compete with lower-paying outside contractors. As the University began to contract out more of its services, the in-house divisions felt the pressure to compete. The custodians’ union and Harvard even agreed to lower wages for Harvard custodians so that the in-house employees matched the broader Boston market. Overall, real wages for in-house service workers dropped by 7.5 percent since September of 1994.

The solution, the committee wrote, is for the University to increase wages and eliminate the wage competition between contractors and the University’s employees.

“Harvard has an obligation to be a good employer to fulfill its teaching and research missions,” the HCECP argued.

To that end, the committee argued that the University should reopen negotiations with its service workers.

“Though we are reluctant to set the terms for each negotiation, we expect the parties to agree on wages that do not fall below the range of $10.83 to $11.30,” it concluded.

While the recommendation of increasing salaries would provide a short-term spike in wages, the Katz report called for establishing a “parity” wage and benefits policy for on-site contractors that would relieve the long-term pressure that drove down wages. Under the recommendation for wage parity, contractors would have to pay their employees the same wages that the University pays to similar workers that it employs directly.

In addition to their recommendations regarding wages, the Katz Committee advised adopting a code of conduct for service contractors, adopting a code for workplace conduct, re-examining training programs, and taking action to ensure that employees are able to participate in union-organizing activities.

Controversy

While the committee adopted the report unanimously, its formulation has not come without controversy. In late October, Economics Professor Caroline Hoxby resigned from her position on the committee, claiming that the process was not balanced but was biased towards the Living Wage camp.

“I believe that the HCECP has neither the process nor the principle to fulfill its duties,” she wrote in a letter to The Crimson.

Other members of the committee, however, say the report did not go far enough. In an appendix to the report, a number of committee members wrote concurrences saying the report was a good start but did not go far enough.

Committee member and Living Wage protester Faisal Chaudhry, a 2L, said that the University should adopt a minimum wage to ensure that wages do not fall below a “living wage.”

“The basic problem with parity [with outside contractors] is that there is no guarantee that the wage to which parity is set won’t be a poverty wage,” he said.

However, Chaudhry said that overall the report was a step in the right direction.

“There is no doubt that the recommendations as they now stand will help thousands of low-wage workers on campus, so in that sense it would be irresponsible and probably not very wise to reject those recommendations,” he said.

In a separate concurrence, HLS professors Martha Minow and David Wilkins said they supported a back-stop minimum wage and called for a more precise understanding of the enforcement mechanisms.

“[T]he University should simply commit not to lower wages, regardless of how much future bargaining agreements may raise them,” Minow told the RECORD. “This would have a moral and expressive value, helping Harvard achieve what the report indicates should be the goal of becoming a good employer.”

The final report rejected the call for a minimum-wage floor, saying increasing wages now and removing the downward pressure from contractors would ensure a fair wage.

“The majority of committee members felt that parties to collective bargaining were in a better position to determine the future course of pay at Harvard, after the initial wage increase called for here,” the Committee wrote.

HLS Professor Daniel Meltzer signed on to the report’s “sensible and appropriate set of recommendations” but did not join any of the concurrences.

“The report better reflected my own views than did the concurrences,” he said.

The administration is currently reviewing the report’s recommendations during a comment period, which extends through this Friday.

In a statement, President Lawrence Summers said of the report: “It is a comprehensive and very constructive document that outlines a promising direction for the future.”

On Thursday, Summers will meet with the Progressive Student Labor Movement, the group that first brought the issue of employee wages to the attention of the students. From there, it is up to President Summers to announce the University’s next move.

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