Lately, the only thing cooking in the dining halls is discontent.
Two weeks ago, Boston faced a city-wide heat emergency — yet dining hall workers toiled through sweltering heat in serving areas prone to overheating. Following intense student outcry over these working conditions, Harvard University Dining Services finally temporarily closed Mather House’s dining hall for lunch.
It’s obvious that this is a problem. The immediate solution is obvious: Install air conditioning in the dining halls, at once.
Dining hall workers sweat over literal fires in heavy clothing, in kitchens that can surpass temperatures of 100 degrees, all year round. HUDS workers have reported suffering from heat rashes, exhaustion, and headaches while working over searing stoves and dishwashers.
This Board has previously emphasized the importance of air conditioning in student dorms, especially considering the unevenly distributed burdens of the growing climate crisis. More pressing than the last vestiges of summer heat we undergraduates experience at the start of the term is the year-long torment of dining hall workers in boiling kitchens. If air conditioning is primarily a comfort issue for students, it is a crucial safety concern for dining hall workers.
Harvard has no excuse as an employer — especially as well-endowed as it is — to fail to provide air conditioning in dining halls.
The appalling working conditions of Harvard dining hall workers and the circumstances of how they came to light lead us to a sobering conclusion: We are not listening enough, if at all, to our workers.
While HUDS has declined to comment on the exact factors that led to Mather dining hall’s closing, we’d wager on the pressure from student voices as a significant reason. This apparent apathy to the concerns raised by workers themselves is alarming — especially since workers say they have been expressing these grievances for ages. Had no students spoken, would dining hall workers have continued to work under hazardous conditions? We shudder to imagine it.
As Mather-Dunster HUDS worker Prisco A. Mancaniello said: “If you guys make noise, something will get done. If we make noise, nothing will get done.” As long as Harvard’s ear tends more to student than worker noise, it is imperative that we use our position as students to advocate for better conditions for our workers.
Listen and talk to workers — from the cooks in the dining hall to the construction workers and custodial staff who may also be impacted by the heat. Support unionization efforts on campus that will protect workers’ rights.
We have not been the best advocates for workers ourselves. When this Editorial Board doubted the necessity of hot breakfast in every House, we poorly expressed our stance, consequently invalidating dining hall workers’ descriptions of their experiences as “hyperbolic arguments.” We apologize for the undue and inconsiderate skepticism, and will aim to do better by workers in the future.
We’ll start with one clear ask: Harvard, cool down the dining halls.
This staff editorial solely represents the majority view of The Crimson Editorial Board. It is the product of discussions at regular Editorial Board meetings. In order to ensure the impartiality of our journalism, Crimson editors who choose to opine and vote at these meetings are not involved in the reporting of articles on similar topics.
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