Q&A: After three weeks of junk food, Claire Pinson, ’15, is grateful for end of Harvard dining hall workers’ strike

Claire Pinson, '15, a member of the Winthrop House, has been eating in this dining area along with other house members because her dorm is under renovation.
(Photo used by permission of Claire Pinson)
Claire Pinson, ’15, a member of Winthrop House, has been eating in this dining area along with other house members because her dorm is under renovation.

On Oct. 5, the Harvard University dining staff went on strike. The strike lasted three weeks. Claire Pinson, ‘15, is a sophomore at Harvard.  

Q: Why did the strike start?

A: The dining hall workers had a contact in the university (who was) talking about changing wages and health plans (for the better). When their previous contract ended and the new contract came, the workers were not happy about wages and the health care (the wages were too low and the health care was too expensive).

Q: Did you think the strike would last this long?

A: I had heard rumors that it would last a few weeks. I thought it would last a week and a half, tops – it definitely felt longer than it actually was.

Q: When did the strike end?

A: It ended last week. (Harvard and the strikers) came to a resolution. Things are back to normal now. It took a few days to restock the food, but the workers are all back. On (Thursday, Oct. 27) we had a welcome-back party for all the workers.

Q: How did the strike affect you?

A: About half of the houses’ dining halls were closed. There are usually 12 houses, and each has their own dining hall. It didn’t affect me personally – my house’s dining hall stayed open. (But a) lot of friends had to find different places to eat. We were eating off of disposable plates with disposable cutlery. The food quality was a lot lower because there wasn’t enough staff to cook normal food. One day I had chicken fingers for two out of three meals.

Q: Did you have to find other restaurants to eat at?

A: I’m (on) the “broke college student” plan. I try not to eat out. A lot of places – especially around Harvard – are really expensive. But at  the end of the three weeks, I wasn’t feeling my best because I was not eating properly. But I hung in there for (my) budget’s sake. Some of that was my fault. There were so many unhealthy options, and I didn’t have the self-control not to eat them.

Q: What was the food like at the dining halls?

A: Before the strike, especially compared to freshman year, they did a great job of offering vegetable options, grain options, pasta and meat options, and there was an open grill where you could order grilled cheese, a burger or a veggie patty. You could always make a bowl of veggies and rice or chicken.

Q: How has the strike affected your opinion of the dining hall workers and Harvard?

A: I have become a lot more aware of the dining hall workers. A lot of us (students) don’t usually interact with dining hall workers. We just go in and eat. We don’t usually stop and get to know the people who serve us. I’m more aware that these people have families and need to support themselves.

I’m trying to get to know their names now. I recognize their faces more, and I intentionally make a point to smile or say “hi” to them. I’m trying to be more friendly and ask them how they’re doing and care.

For Harvard in general, the university responded pretty well to see what the workers wanted out of the strike. Harvard could have been a lot more stiff and less understanding. I appreciated the fact that Harvard could come to an agreement with the workers.

Q: How did the other students respond?

A: I don’t think there was any person who openly sided with Harvard. There were students who were heavily involved with the workers on strike. In other classes, they would have walkouts to support the strike. People would literally get up and leave to walk with strikers outside. In one of my classes, they did a walkout, and the professor was really confused. Only three students left because we couldn’t miss the lecture in class.

Q: What do your friends think of the strike?

A: At the beginning, all of my friends and I were excited. There was lots of activity on campus because of the strike. It felt exciting. But by the end of the strike, we were tired and wanted the regular food back and all dining halls to be open.

Q: Did you support the workers on strike?

A: I try to stay as ambivalent as I can. I’m not as educated in what the workers were on strike for. I didn’t read into it enough to take a stance. But I feel like if someone is in an unjust situation, they should speak up, and I respected the way they went about the strike and (how they) stayed together and were peaceful about it.

By Emma Boersma

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