Starving Harvard Hires Scabs to Replace Striking Cafeteria Workers

Employees want $35,000 a year, but they and the university can’t come to an agreement while students are forced to eat frozen meals.

Jim Davis/Boston Globe via Getty

Harvard is hiring. Applicants must be willing to work for free in the dining halls.

On Monday, the Ivy League school entered the sixth day of its standoff with dining hall workers, who have gone on strike for the first time in over 30 years. The cafeteria staff are demanding affordable health care and base pay of $35,000 for year-round workers. But workers and Harvard negotiators can’t come to an agreement. And while dining hall workers strike for better wages, Harvard is hiring scabs.

After nearly six months of bargaining with the university, cafeteria staff walked out on Wednesday. In anticipation of a strike, Harvard allegedly stockpiled three days’ worth of frozen foods. But now on the strike’s sixth day, students say they’re living on undercooked chicken prepared by untrained strikebreakers while administrators scour the faculty for any employees willing to serve breakfast.

The university is “actively seeking for volunteers all across campus,” an email from Harvard’s Campus Services implored. The email, obtained by the Harvard Crimson clarified that only employees who were not paid hourly and did not qualify for overtime would be allowed to work for free in the dining halls.

“Students have noticed there aren’t many workers in the dining halls,” Itzel Vasquez-Rodriguez, a Harvard senior and activist with the Student Labor Action Movement told The Daily Beast. “It looks like some temp workers, some volunteer workers, as well as [cafeteria] managers,” who are not part of the dining hall workers’ union.

Vasquez-Rodriguez said the call for strikebreakers has been largely laughed down on the liberal campus.

“I know some people have refused because they’re supportive of the strike,” she said. “They’re really angry at Harvard for letting it go this far.”

Reliance unpaid labor is not a great look for Harvard, the world’s most richly financed university, which valued its endowment at $35.7 billion in June.

“Dining hall workers feel like they have really modest demands,” Tiffany Ten Eyck, a spokesperson for Local 26, the Boston-based union that represents Harvard dining hall workers told The Daily Beast. “Especially because Harvard has the resources that it does.”

The dining hall staff is asking Harvard to roll back a proposal that would hike health care costs for employees. The workers also want a guaranteed salary of $35,000 for year-round staffers.

Summer employment is a sticking point for the workers, who are laid off after classes end in summer. Because Harvard is a non-profit institution, these laid-off employees cannot collect unemployment over summer break. During a failed bargaining session earlier this month, Harvard offered to pay weekly stipends of $150 to $250 to dining hall workers available to staff the cafeterias in summer. The union shot it down. Eyck said over twenty of these negotiations have failed since May.

But Harvard administrators were prepared for a fight. Like a fortress preparing for siege, the university began stockpiling food in bulk before union negotiations, the Harvard Crimson reported. Dining staff told the paper that their kitchens had been stocked with at least three days’ worth of frozen provisions like “stuffed peppers, mac and cheese, and soups”.

Get The Beast In Your Inbox!

Daily Digest

Start and finish your day with the top stories from The Daily Beast.

Cheat Sheet

A speedy, smart summary of all the news you need to know (and nothing you don't).

By clicking “Subscribe,” you agree to have read the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy
Thank You!
You are now subscribed to the Daily Digest and Cheat Sheet. We will not share your email with anyone for any reason.

Students have complained that the frozen food comes out half-thawed, and that the volunteer cafeteria staff is not sensitive to allergies.

“A SLAM member who asked for a vegan lunch today in Winthrop was told that the cornbread is vegan even though the ingredients listed on the online HUDS menu clearly show that it contains eggs and sour cream,” the Student Labor Action Movement wrote in a series of Facebook posts detailing offenses by the replacement workers.

But Eyck said Harvard administrators might be starting to cave on the strike’s sixth day. The dining hall workers have the backing of all other Harvard employee unions, whose members aren’t about to volunteer as strikebreakers. And Harvard’s students are sticking by the striking workers.

“They’ve actually been feeding the strikers,” Eyck said. “For the first few days we had about 16 picket lines out across campus. Students have been out feeding workers who typically feed them.”