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Harvard student on hunger strike is hospitalized

Was part of action backing guards

A Harvard University sophomore was hospitalized early yesterday after going on a hunger strike to lobby for fairer wages and working conditions for campus security guards.

Javier Castro, a member of the Harvard Stand for Security Coalition, was admitted to Mount Auburn Hospital in Cambridge after lab tests showed low levels of sodium in his bloodstream. In a telephone interview from the hospital, the 19-year-old said he will continue fasting despite a doctor's recommendation that he stop.

"We still have, in my view, a good chance of winning this, and I'm more confident now than ever," said Castro, who began the fast on May 3 with nine other students. An 11th student has since joined the group.

For several weeks, the Service Employees International Union Local 615 has been in contract negotiations with AlliedBarton Security Services, whose security officers are contracted by Harvard. The labor union is seeking a fair discipline process and wages and healthcare identical to other campus service workers.

Lauren Jacobs, the union's director of organizing, said the union did not organize the hunger strike, but supports the students.

"We see this as a call to conscience," Jacobs said.

AlliedBarton and the union continue bargaining this week.

"We believe we are making real progress toward a contract which will serve the interests of all involved," said Larry Rubin, a company spokesman, who would not discuss specifics on the talks.

In 2002, Harvard became the first university to enact a policy that seeks to ensure that contract workers receive compensation comparable to university employees.

But the students argue that the contract officers' hourly wages, roughly $12.62, are far below some campus service workers, who start at $14.40.

The students marched on campus yesterday and presented a petition in support of the union's demands to the university's head of labor relations. University officials said they will meet with students this week.

But Joe Wrinn, a Harvard spokesman, said it would be inappropriate "for one company to interfere with the collective bargaining negotiations of another company."

April Simpson can be reached at asimpson@globe.com.

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