“In seeking the long-term welfare of all, we endeavor to accept responsibility for the impact of our actions on our community, our environment, and the world. We hold ourselves and each other accountable for our behavior and our use of resources.” –HDS Community Values
On Wednesday, October 5, the Harvard University Dining Service workers went on strike after months of contract negotiations fell through with the university. The HUDS workers are protesting a cut to their health care plan, one that would raise their co-pay and make it prohibitive to seek services and seeking a $35,000 annual salary with a guaranteed stipend during the summer months. Currently, HUDS workers are required to be on call during the summer months and are not allowed to collect unemployment benefits. While the average hourly wage is above minimum wage, this does not take into account how many hours workers are allotted during the year as well as the lack of employment they experience during the summer months. In addition, it is not sufficient for the high living costs of Cambridge, Boston and the surrounding areas.
Support for the strikers has poured in from the students in the undergraduate college and graduate schools. At Harvard Divinity School, the HDS Student Association has connected the Divinity School’s community values with the HUDS worker’s plight, standing in support of the strike, “In voicing our support for HUDS workers, we draw on those moral teachings shared by many of the world’s spiritual and ethical traditions which emphasize compassion, dignity, and justice for all people. Burdening workers with unsustainable incomes and unaffordable health care coverage directly contradicts the values of equity and social justice we believe Harvard must stand for – for its students, faculty members, and workers alike.”
Many HDS students have become personally involved in the strike, supporting the picket line, staging walk-outs, and providing spiritual and material services to the HUDS workers. HDS students held an interfaith spiritual service for the HUDS workers before a student-led walk-out at the beginning of this week. And, on Tuesday, students led a walk-out from Community Tea, a weekly opportunity for HDS students and faculty to socialize over food and tea, to bring food and beverages to the HUDS workers.
First-year MTS candidate Madeline Kinkel has been at the forefront of organizing HDS students to provide support to the workers. She created a Facebook page “HDS ❤ HUDS,” and has helped coordinate an HDS petition and food drives for the workers. Madeline is the daughter of a union family and has a deep understanding of the important roles unions play in negotiating living wages, health care, and other benefits. Madeline spoke with HDS Admissions GA, Brittany Landorf, the other day about what it means to support the HUDS workers to her, “When I heard about the negotiations between the union and the university, it felt personal. As a first year student at HDS, I didn’t know any of the workers involved, not at first anyway. That didn’t matter. Thinking of how stressful it is to not have affordable health care, to avoid going to the doctor when you’re sick, and having to try to take care of a family and children on top of that, I couldn’t even imagine. Beyond this gut reaction, raising the standard of working conditions for one group of people can help raise them for everyone. Joining the struggle for fair pay and health care coverage felt like I was joining the fight for my family.”
Madeline became more involved with the strike after helping set up a petition with other HDS students to show support of the HUDS workers. She has since met several of the HUDS workers and union leaders, “About a week after the [HDS] petition was public, I was introduced to Aaron D., one of the HUDS workers. Aaron is not only incredibly kind, but also knows all the ins and outs of the conflict between the university and the HUDS workers. From what I’ve heard, Harvard has begun to offer marginally better wages, and an infinitesimal summer stipend, if the workers agree to drastically cut health care. So, they want their workers to just keep running, hoping that they won’t trip and get sick, that their children won’t get sick.”
She connects her service and support of the strikers with the HDS mission statement, “The HDS mission statement reads that we are training people to build a more equitable world. It seemed to me that as HDS students, with all the privileges that come with that title, we were and are called to stand alongside families and people desperately fighting for a chance to live, a chance to live without that constant anxiety and fear.
For Madeline and many other HDS students, supporting the strike is not a choice; it is a direct reflection of the academic, community, and spiritual values that motivated them to apply to HDS in the first place, “And so I, and a solid group of HDS students, have been shirking our scholarly duties and organizing, and going to the picket lines to stand with the workers. In part because we are called to fight for an equitable world, and in part because, personally and selfishly, I think of my mother working a non-union, minimum wage job and driving in her broken car in the winter with no safety net if the frozen wind makes her sick, and I need to stand with the striking workers.”