A group of students at Harvard University have entered their ninth day of a hunger strike as part of a campaign to demand a pay raise and improved working conditions for campus security guards. The students want the university to intervene in salary negotiations between the security guards and their employer Allied Barton. Two of the hunger-striking students join us from Boston. [includes rush transcript]
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JUAN GONZALEZ: A group of students at Harvard University have entered their ninth day of a hunger strike as part of a campaign to demand a pay raise and improved working conditions for campus security guards. The students want the university to intervene in salary negotiations between the security guards and their employer, Allied Barton.
AMY GOODMAN: Two of the hunger-striking students join us now from Boston. Jamila Martin is a senior at Harvard and an organizer with the Student Labor Action Movement. Benjamin Landau-Beispiel is a first-year student at Harvard. We welcome you both to Democracy Now!
Jamila, I understand — have two students gone into the hospital now who have been on hunger strike?
JAMILA MARTIN: So, one person was hospitalized for low serum and sodium levels. And then probably four other people have been held at different times by Health Services, because they’ve had low levels, and have eventually been released, as those have been raised.
AMY GOODMAN: Please explain the issue. Why are you fasting?
JAMILA MARTIN: So, we’re fasting because Harvard refuses to take any responsibility for security officers, because they’re outsourced. And that’s really the crux of the issue, that Harvard refuses to intervene in any way in the negotiations on behalf of security officers.
JUAN GONZALEZ: And, Benjamin Landau, what’s been the response of Harvard to your hunger strike?
BENJAMIN LANDAU-BEISPIEL: They’ve refused to listen to us. We’ve been sending letters to the president every day. We’ve been asking to meet with them. We’ve been having demonstrations daily. And so far, the voice of the students hasn’t been heard. They’ve been ignoring us. But this is a struggle that will continue until we get what we want.
AMY GOODMAN: We did ask Harvard University to join us for this discussion. They refused, though they did send a statement that was published in the Crimson. We also called Allied Barton. They also said they would not come on.
Ben, can you explain the situation for the security guards and how they compare to security guards at other campuses?
BENJAMIN LANDAU-BEISPIEL: Yeah, sure. So right now the security guards at Harvard are making $12.60 an hour, which is not on par with what other workers at Harvard are making or what workers at comparable campuses in the area are making. For example, at BU and MIT, the wages are closer to $17 to $20. And other workers at Harvard — for example, dining hall workers and museum guards, people like that — are making $14, $15 an hour. Security guards have really been left behind. They’re the only ones still making $12.60 an hour. And so, that’s what this campaign is about. We feel that they at least deserve parity with the other workers on our campus. The living wage in the area is much more than $12.60 an hour. There’s different estimates, but it ranges up to $20 an hour. And we’re saying $12.60 is just not enough.
AMY GOODMAN: Jamila, we have just 30 seconds, but when do you plan to end this fast?
JAMILA MARTIN: We don’t know. We haven’t planned an end to it yet. But regardless of what happens with the fast, the campaign isn’t over until officers are getting the demands that they’ve put forward.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you both for being with us, Jamila Martin and Benjamin Landau-Beispiel, senior and freshman at Harvard University with Student Labor Action Movement, calling for security guards to get increased pay. They are in the ninth day of a hunger fast.