Cambridge, MA — At a rally in Harvard Yard today, rabbis and interfaith clergy members called on Harvard University President Lawrence Bacow to meet student workers’ demand for a contract with fair pay, quality healthcare that covers dental and mental health, and protections from harassment and discrimination. Following the rally, rabbis affiliated with the New England Jewish Labor Committee (NEJLC) personally delivered a letter to President Bacow signed by more than sixty rabbis from across New England, and an interfaith group of Harvard Chaplains delivered a letter in support of student workers’ fight for a fair contract.
“All human beings deserve dignity and respect at work, and that includes student workers. The Jewish tradition affirms the obligation of employers to provide a living wage to workers and to protect them from exploitation and neglect. It is in that spirit, as well as out of my concern as a Harvard-Radcliffe alum, that I call on President Bacow to heed student workers’ very reasonable and just demands on pay, healthcare, and protections from harassment and discrimination,” said Rabbi Toba Spitzer, of Congregation Dorshei Tzedek in West Newton, and immediate Past President of the Massachusetts Board of Rabbis.
The letter the New England Jewish Labor Committee delivered to President Bacow provides a full endorsement of the contract proposals student workers are demanding in a contract. The NEJLC letter concludes, “As a preeminent institution of higher learning, it is unbecoming of Harvard University to undervalue those who support students in the classrooms, libraries, and research labs every day. We urge you to live up to the high standards for which you are known, and negotiate a fair contract immediately.”
“I am deeply grateful for the student workers and the community for giving me the chance to be the person I purport to be: a person who gives a damn. An injustice against one is an injustice against all,” said John Bach, Quaker Chaplain at Harvard. “I stand with Dr. King; the only way the arc bends toward justice is because we make it bend.”
“We ask others across the interfaith community to recognize that it is a moral issue for such important members of our University community, many of whom are part of our own various congregations, fellowships, and student groups, to feel safe and valued at work and school,” wrote a group of interfaith Harvard chaplains. “The interfaith community, after all, involves every single person on campus. It includes all of the world’s religious and spiritual traditions, as well as humanists, atheists, agnostics, and the religiously unaffiliated.”
“All human beings deserve dignity and respect at work, and that includes student workers. Drawing on centuries of Jewish tradition regarding the rights of workers, the Massachusetts Board of Rabbis affirms that employers must ‘treat workers justly’ and that ‘Jewish law protects the worker from exploitation and neglect by employers.’ It is in that spirit that I call on President Bacow to heed student workers’ very reasonable and just demands on pay, healthcare, and protections from harassment and discrimination,” said Ari Fertig, Executive Director of the New England Jewish Labor Committee.
The rally was hosted by the Harvard Graduate Students Union – UAW, which represents more than 4,000 student workers across every department at Harvard University. Student workers went on strike December 3rd after 18 months of negotiations with Harvard University, because the Administration has maintained staunch refusal to meet student workers’ top three contract demands.
Harvard student workers from all departments joined together in April 2018 to form HGSU-UAW. They are fighting for fair pay, comprehensive and affordable healthcare, and key protections from harassment and discrimination, guaranteed through a union contract.
The International Union, United Automobile, Aerospace and Agricultural Implement Workers of America (UAW) is one of the largest and most diverse unions in North America, with members in virtually every sector of the economy. UAW-represented workplaces range from multinational corporations, small manufacturers and state and local governments to colleges and universities, hospitals and private non-profit organizations. The UAW has more than 430,000 active members and more than 580,000 retired members in the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico. The UAW represents roughly 80,000 higher education workers nationally, including 18,000 postdoctoral researchers, adjunct professors, and graduate workers in the Northeast who have chosen UAW representation in the last five years.
About New England Jewish Labor Committee
The New England Jewish Labor Committee is a non-profit social justice organization of people who believe that the connection between the Jewish and labor communities is important to the well-being and forward movement of both communities and to the broader society as well. Whether we are teachers, rabbis, service workers, accountants, business people, administrators, carpenters, or attorneys—we are part of the fabric of a society of working people.