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.
On 30 June 1998, the contract between Service Employees International Union Local 200A (SEIU) and Syracuse University (SU) expired. Preceded by two months of negotiation, SU made a final offer for a new contract before the 30 June deadline.
Students and staff at the College of William and Mary campaign for higher wages for housekeepers 2010-2011
Beginning in 1999 and lasting into 2001, students at William and Mary and members of the Tidewater Labor Support Committee (TSLC) carried out what they called a "Living Wage Campaign," during which they protested and petitioned the school’s administration to raise the salary for housekeepers employed by the college. The campaigners declared victory after the administration conceded to raising wages of the housekeepers to $8.29 per hour, which was far from their original goal, and ceased their campaign in 2001.
From the mid-1990s into the early 2000s a wave of economic justice activism swept through college campuses in the United States, spurred in large part by the global justice movement’s spotlighting of corporate malfeasance in the United States and especially in the global South. Seeking to fight in solidarity with underpaid and unprotected laborers, a number of college campuses launched campaigns demanding their universities end the purchasing of apparel produced in sweatshops. Between 1999 and 2000, 18 campus campaigns used sit-ins and building occupations in pursuit of this goal.
Undergraduate students at the University of Wisconsin-Madison founded the Student Labor Action Coalition (SLAC) in 1994 after watching a video in a sociology course about the lockout of 700 workers at A.E. Staley, a sweetener company in Decatur, Illinois. They formed the organization to support the workers’ campaign there, and later spread to university campuses across the country.
Beginning in late 2005, students at the University of Vermont (UVM) were involved in a movement to increase the wages of school employees such that workers could be given a "living wage." Primarily focused on food-service employees contracted by Sodexho, the nonviolent campaign sought out and acquired support from local officials, faculty, and even state legislators. The students believed they needed in intervene in order to secure a wage that was equal to the state standard of a living wage as established by the state legislature.
When the University of California at Santa Cruz (UCSC) hired Chancellor Denice Denton in 2004 the transition entailed her earning a salary of $282,000 a year and $600,000 of renovations made on her future house of residence, including a controversial $30,000 dog run. This became a topic of debate; students as well as media critics quickly brought these details to light and demanded accountability for the choices of spending at the University. Under these circumstances, employees at the University began to call attention to the fact that they earned a less than living wage
Along with many student activists in United States universities in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s, the University of Buffalo Students Against Sweatshops (UBSAS) ran a campaign to pressure their university to join the Workers Rights Consortium (WRC). After years of student protests and demonstrations, the University of Buffalo (UB) announced that they would join WRC and the Fair Labor Association (FLA). The group of student activists feared that their university’s decision to also join the corporate-sponsored FLA would compromise the efforts and aims of workers’ rights groups.
Georgetown Solidarity Committee (GSC) formed at Georgetown University in 1996
to support workers' rights. In the fall
of 2001, a group of students, headed by the GSC, formed the Living Wage
Coalition (LWC) in order to guarantee University workers an income to meet their
subsistence needs. The students held meetings on how to take action and organized
breakfast events with workers to hear their grievances and concerns. By 2002, the administration agreed to raise
the minimum wage of workers directly employed by the university to $10.25 per
In 2006, non-unionized janitors at the University of Miami earned as little as $6.40 an hour and received no health insurance. Demanding higher wages and better working conditions, these janitors of mostly Haitian and Cuban descent began a campaign against the University of Miami with leadership from the Service Employees International Union (SEIU).