Michelle Wu demands Harvard protect jobs for frontline custodians

On Tuesday, Boston City Councilor and Mayoral candidate Michelle Wu sent Harvard President Lawrence Bacow a letter expressing her concern about the administration’s decision to cut contracted workers out of its pandemic leave policy next semester, even as COVID-19 rates surge and unemployment ends for thousands the day after Christmas.  

“Harvard has an important role to play in ensuring our communities survive this unprecedented crisis, as well as an obligation to support the workers who have dedicated their careers to keeping the campus clean and safe, and who have made it possible for students to thrive,” wrote Councilor Wu. “During this difficult time for many working families—especially those who are Black, brown, and immigrant—it is more important than ever that well-resourced institutions commit to ensuring that their workers continue to have income security and health benefits. Those who do this work—many of whom have been on the frontlines of the pandemic—deserve this peace of mind regardless of whether they are contracted or employed directly.”

On November 12, Harvard’s Executive Vice President Katie Lapp announced that the University is amending its pandemic paid leave policy to exclude vendors, which would could lead to layoffs among contracted custodians, security officers, food service workers, and others. Despite subsequent outcry from elected officials including Councilmember Wu, the Cambridge City Council, and others, along with student groups, the University has not reversed it’s decision. Many contracted service workers at Harvard have worked on campus for decades, and face limited work prospects if they lose these jobs. 

“I’m the sole bread winner in my household, and my wife and I have three kids to support,” said Karim Samih, a contracted Custodian represented by 32BJ SEIU. “Without this job, we couldn’t afford our housing. Contracted custodians like me do similar work to directly employed custodians. We all have been on the frontlines of this pandemic, putting our health and families’ health at risk every time we go into work. We were proud to make this sacrifice in order to help stop the spread of COVID-19 on campus. Now Harvard needs to do their part and protect our jobs.” 

“Harvard is the wealthiest university in the world, with an endowment of more than $40 billion. They can afford to take care of workers who have given them decades of labor and been on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Roxana Rivera, Vice President of 32BJ SEIU. “President Bacow and the Harvard administration need to listen to Councilor Wu, their workforce, and their student body. Thousands of workers and their families are counting on them doing the right thing.”

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