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Harvard Students' Sit-in Wins a Living Wage 

July 2001 IBEW Journal

After proving to Harvard University officials that their sit-in was not just a frivolous springtime lark, some three dozen Harvard students ended their three-week seizure of Massachusetts Hall with a winning campaign for a "living wage" for 2,000 employees of Harvard and its contractors.

IBEW International President Edwin D. Hill, International Secretary-Treasurer Jerry J. O'Connor and Second District International Vice President Frank J. Carroll were among those congratulating the triumphant students when the sit-in ended.

AFL-CIO President John Sweeney spoke to one of the daily noon rallies when the effort was two weeks old. He thanked the students for a perfectly executed nonviolent direct action, and a week later congratulated them on "a monumental victory" when the sit-in ended May 8. Harvard agreed to retroactive wage increases and worker participation in a panel to set new wage rates with a deadline of December 1.

The living wage is defined as the minimum necessary in any community to meet the basic needs of food, clothing and shelter for full-time workers and their families. At Harvard, the demand was for $10.25 an hour, the wage adopted by the city of Cambridge in 1999. The Harvard victory inspired a similar demonstration at the University of Connecticut, which ended May 10 after winning an $8.47 an hour wage base. More than 55 cities have now passed ordinances as part of the nationwide living wage campaign.

Attendance grew regularly at the Harvard noon rallies, which the protestors joined from behind police lines by hanging out the windows of the seized building. More than 300 Harvard faculty members signed a newspaper ad endorsing the living wage. The wages and working conditions-including no health insurance-of the largely immigrant work force drew harsh comparison to Harvard's position as the nation's oldest (founded 1636) and richest (endowment of $19 billion) university.


Members of IBEW Local 103 joined international officers in greeting the victorious Harvard students as their sit-in ended. From left in the center of the photo are Sr. Executive Assistant to the International President Vincent A. O'Reilly, Local 103 Business Agent Michael Monahan, International President Edwin D. Hill, General Foreman Tom Ahern of  J&M Brown, a Local 103 employer, Local 103 Business Manager Richard P. Gambino, International Vice President Frank J. Carroll, International Secretary-Treasurer Jerry J. O'Connor, IEC Member Rui Carrinho, International Representative Richard Monahan and Local 2320 Recording Secretary Linda B. Horan.