A week ago, Harvard University was toying with the idea of laying off its contract dining and catering workers without pay. The university announced that it would provide its direct hires — those employees hired and employed directly by the university — whose work is impacted by the novel coronavirus pandemic with 30 days of paid leave and benefits. But contract workers — who include the university’s dining and catering workers — were left out of the initial equation.
Pressure from workers’ unions and student advocacy organizations — including a petition launched by the Labor and Employment Action Project (LEAP) at Harvard Law School that got more than 7,000 signatures — eventually forced Harvard’s hand, and the university agreed on Friday to provide all of its employees — contract workers included — with regular pay and benefits through May 28. Pay and benefits will be retroactive to March 10.
A statement from LEAP — subtitled “Victory!” — partially reads:
This morning, LEAP announced a “call-in” demanding that Harvard University agree to pay all campus workers who the University has threatened to lay off during the COVID-19 pandemic. Organizers estimate that over a hundred students called or emailed University officials in just two hours.
The mechanics of the payments will work as such: Harvard will direct cash assistance toward the primary employers of its furloughed contract workers (which is Restaurant Associates in the case of Harvard’s dining and catering workforce), which will then pay the workers directly, according to Harvard spokesperson Jonathan Swain.
The plan is not without contingencies. According to a letter from Harvard’s executive vice president Katie Lapp to the administrative deans at the 12 schools and Harvard’s vice presidents, benefits and payments for contract workers will be made available if “they are well and available for work, but displaced from their contract assignments due to the COVID-19 public health emergency and unable to obtain new assignments.”
(Harvard’s coronavirus workplace policies can be viewed here.)
Swain told Eater that because Harvard’s campus isn’t completely shut down, some contract workers have been reassigned, hence the contingency. Asked whether contract workers will have to provide proof that they’re unable to work due to the COVID-19-related public health emergency, Swain said that decision would be in the hands of a contract worker’s primary employee.
Swain did say that employers receiving assistance from Harvard must provide assurances that the cash is being used to provide pay and benefits to contract workers who would under normal circumstances have been working on the Harvard campus.
Harvard’s endowment is north of $40 billion, so these payments will be a drop in the bucket for the university. But they’ll be crucial for the many workers impacted.
• Petition Calls on Harvard to Pay Workers for the Rest of the Semester [HC]
• Harvard Guarantees Regular Pay and Benefits to Employees Through May, Will Keep Childcare Centers Open [HC]
• COVID-19 Coverage on Eater [EBOS]