Via NY Post: The social-justice warriors of Harvard are on the march again, this time in solidarity with the university’s dining-hall workers. Students and faculty have spent the past few days protesting low wages and an increase in health-care premiums for the people serving their grilled cheese, french fries and occasional lobster dinners.
On Oct. 5, about 750 workers went on strike. It was Harvard’s first such revolt in 33 years, and strikes are becoming more common at colleges across the country. In Pennsylvania, thousands of faculty went on strike at 14 colleges and universities on Wednesday alone.
Harvard was fortunately prepared, having stocked up on frozen food for students in the days leading up to the walkout. But who knows when their TV dinners will run out. Two weeks later, things seem to have reached an impasse. Harvard has closed six of its 14 dining halls, staffing its remaining ones with temporary workers and giving students money to spend at local pizza joints.
In its defense, Harvard says, the dining-hall workers make an average of almost $22 per hour, more than the $15 living wage required by the People’s Republic of Cambridge. Moreover, the university says that health-care costs are going up all over the country and dining-hall workers are going to have to bear some of the brunt of that.
The Chronicle of Higher Education sums up Harvard’s problem pretty well. “How does the richest university in the world negotiate with some of its lowest-paid workers?” the publication asks. When your endowment is over $37 billion, why don’t you pay the people who serve food more than $30,000 per year?
The argument seems to be carrying weight. Earlier this week, Harvard divinity students wore yellow flowers in their hair and sang “Lean On Me” and “We Shall Overcome” as they protested outside the Science Center. They ate bread together, which, according to divinity student Nestor J. Pimienta “symbolized that we’re sharing in the struggle.”
It’s always fun to share in the struggle when you get to skip out on class. According to an account in the Crimson, “After chants of ‘No justice, no peace!’ subsided, [professor] Timothy P. McCarthy ascended the steps of University Hall to address the crowd, which had reached hundreds of people. McCarthy announced to cheers that he had ‘cut short’ his lecture in ‘American Protest Literature from Tom Paine to Tupac’ to walk out with his students.”
Harvard’s undergraduates clearly see the plight of its dining-hall workers as the latest story of oppression in American history. But they seem not to see that Harvard professors actually support the very policies that have put the university in this bind.
In 2014, 10 Harvard scholars sent a letter to Congress insisting that an increase in the minimum wage would not negatively affect employment rates. Indeed, former Harvard Law professor and current Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren has testified before Congress in favor of a $22 minimum wage.
The assumption of these liberal scholars is that the rich who run corporations (or “nonprofit” institutions in this case) are simply hoarding money. If we want the poor to get more money, employers of these workers should just pay them more. And if they don’t, we should get the government to mandate that they do.
Who cares if you’re paying more than minimum wage? If you have more money, fork it over. Why shouldn’t dining-hall workers make as much as English professors? The laws of supply and demand simply don’t enter into the thinking of pointy-headed students and faculty.
The real sticking point in negotiations with the dining-hall workers is rising health insurance premiums. The cost of health insurance has gone up somewhere around 20% nationwide because of the Affordable Care Act. Insurance companies are canceling plans left and right, and the pool of insured people are older and less healthy than forecasters projected — meaning that it’s going to get worse.
As a 2015 article in the National Interest pointed out, “the Harvard faculty is chock-a-block with ObamaCare’s biggest boosters. The new plan was approved by Harvard’s provost, the economist Alan M. Garber, who had signed on to a 2009 open letter assuring the president that a tax on high-end insurance plans “offers the most promising approach to reducing private-sector health-care costs while also giving a much needed raise to the tens of millions of Americans who receive insurance through their employers.”
The Harvard faculty screamed bloody murder last year when the administration tried to raise their health-insurance premiums. Obviously, their dining-hall workers are less able to absorb these increases. But the policies pushed in Harvard’s faculty lounges have left everyone — not just the students eating ramen noodles — much worse off.