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This Harvard Dining Hall Worker Movingly Explains Why She And Her Colleagues Are On Strike

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An opinion piece published in The New York Times on Monday shines a light on a group of people whom college students often take for granted: dining hall workers. Rosa Ines Rivera is cafeteria worker at Harvard University, which is one of the most prestigious universities in the country—and also the richest. Rivera has worked at Harvard for 17 years, but right now she's on strike with most of the other dining hall workers. Why? Because the workers say they don't make enough money to live on, and that a change in their health care plan will make staying healthy way too expensive.

In her opinion piece, Rivera talks about serving some of the best students in the world, and working at the cafeteria in the T.H. Chan School of Public Health, which bears the inscription: “The highest attainable standard of health is one of the fundamental rights of every human being.” But Rivera doesn't feel she's anywhere close to getting the "highest attainable standard of health." Dining hall employees at Harvard make about $22 per hour, which is much higher than the minimum wage, but they can't work all year round because of the school schedule. That means their annual pay is around $31,000. The strikers would like to be paid $35,000, and they want their health care plan to stay the same—Harvard wants to increase costs.

“I serve the people who created Obamacare, people who treat epidemics and devise ways to make the world healthier and more humane. But I can’t afford the health care plan Harvard wants us to accept,” Rivera writes. She writes that she avoids seeking medical attention, even when she really needs it, in order to be able to afford to take her children to the doctor. She also describes how she was unable to afford a $1,150/month apartment and was forced to move herself and her children in with her mother in public housing.

The strike that Rivera is a part of has lasted over two weeks, at one point leading to arrests after protestors blocked traffic in Harvard Square. Many Harvard students have joined the protest in support of the workers. According to The Boston Globe, this strike is the first that has occurred at Harvard since 1983.

Protesters argue that because Harvard has an endowment of more than $35 billion, and had a budget surplus of $62 million at the end of 2015, they can afford to pay higher wages. Harvard argues that they're already paying far above the minimum wage and that workers should be happy with that.

As college students, we should always pay attention to what's going on with those employed by our schools. Like a lot of students at Harvard, we have the opportunity to get involved in labor issues and help make life better for the amazing people who keep our colleges and universities running.


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