Students fight for unions, financial aid at State House

Two separate groups of students this week took a trip to the Massachusetts State House to meet with legislators, hoping to raise awareness among state leaders about the importance of maintaining union rights for workers and financial aid for students.

Seven members of the student group Jumbo Janitor Alliance (JJA) rallied in the office of Massachusetts State Rep. Daniel Winslow (R−Norfolk, LA ’80), along with almost 20 other area students, to discuss a bill Winslow last month sponsored that would considerably limit unions’ rights.

Winslow’s Massachusetts Management Rights Bill, submitted to the state’s House of Representatives, replicates a widely protested budget proposal that Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) submitted last month that would scale back public−sector workers’ rights to engage in collective bargaining for certain employment benefits.

While Winslow yesterday was not available to speak with the students, the JJA members and other Harvard University and Northeastern University students involved with the Washington−based Student Labor Action Project had an “in−depth” conversation with his assistant about the bill and left a letter detailing their position with the office.

“The letter effectively said we feel that collective bargaining is a basic workers’ right … but taking away workers’ rights is not the way to deal with budget deficits,” JJA member Andrea Ness, a senior, said.

“We just wanted him to hear what we had to say about it, why we’re against this bill,” she added.

JJA member Cielo Llinas, a senior, voiced her dissatisfaction with Winslow’s proposed bill.

“The bill reduces the power of unions to collectively bargain … for overtime, seniority, part−time workers and health benefits,” she said.

Unlike the Wisconsin proposal, Llinas added, Winslow’s bill, if passed, would allow workers to retain their bargaining rights for salary and wages.

The group of students hopes to petition Winslow to withdraw the bill from the House at another meeting they scheduled with him next Monday.

On a different front, three students earlier this week represented Tufts at a Student Financial Aid Day event at the State House.

Sophomore Tess Bonoli on Tuesday attended the event, which she said the State House holds annually so students and state legislators can discuss the importance of state financial aid programs.

“It’s an annual event where students from all over Massachusetts go to the State House, and you have the opportunity to meet with your state representatives and your senators and really just thank them for their support of financial aid and ask them to continue supporting … financial aid,” Bonoli said.

Connecting with legislators in person on the issue is especially important given recent Congressional budget proposals that would cut back or eliminate certain financial aid programs, she said.

“It’s such a powerful experience because there are hundreds of kids coming from all over Massachusetts … and everyone is there for the same purpose — we all have this common goal of wanting to pursue an education to the full extent but needing the support of Massachusetts financial aid.”

Bonoli was impressed with the representatives’ accessibility.

“It was very comfortable, very natural. We just told our stories about our dreams to attend certain colleges and how our ability to access financial aid allowed us to do that,” she said. “It felt like a very productive use of our time that I hope will impact their decision to support financial aid.” Jenny White contributed reporting to this article.