In 2016, Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts was one of the most elite universities in the United States. It had the largest endowment of any university in the country at $35.7 billion. However, despite the wealth of the university, its treatment of its employees, specifically dining services employees, came into question in 2016. Starting in early June 2016, the dining services workers of Harvard began a series of negotiations with the university in order to demand a higher yearly salary.
Swarthmore College, a small liberal arts college just outside of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, had long been respected as an institution with a strong commitment to social justice. While the College had pioneered such practices as co-education and comprehensive financial aid, by 2000 many College staff—including those in the environmental and dining services departments—were paid just above poverty levels for Delaware County, where the College and the majority of its workers reside. In the fall of 2000, a group of students began to talk with staff about the College’s employment practices.