Janitors’ union to enter contract negotiations

 

The Service Employees International Union (SEIU) on May 21 will renegotiate its contract with UGL Unicco, Tufts’ campus-cleaning contractor, and push for better working conditions for janitors.

The current contract began in 2010 and was set to end in 2012 but was extended for one year, according to Tufts Labor Coalition (TLC) member Josephine Herman. Contracts are negotiated every two to four years, and this hearing in particular will be less detailed than previous negotiations, she said.

“In the past, the negotiations have had more clear [goals] — ‘We want this’ and ‘We need this’ — and with the conditions that exist now, it seems like the janitors are, for the most part, satisfied … or more satisfied than in the past,” Herman, a senior, said.

SEIU will mainly negotiate with UGL Unicco for improved accommodations during inclement weather, which was especially a problem this year, TLC member Emily Weinrebe said.

“For example, [they want] even things as basic as getting proper attire for dealing with really terrible weather conditions because they are forced to work in the cold when we are all inside, and they aren’t given proper boots and clothing for that,” Weinrebe, a graduating senior, said.

Executive Vice President Patricia Campbell said the administration has met with TLC to discuss the issue of providing accommodations for janitors during emergencies.

“In particular, when we had the blizzard this winter and some of the custodial staff had to stay overnight, there was a concern because that had happened almost never before … and we agreed with the coalition that we needed to be better prepared for that,” she said.

The custodial staff also hopes to maintain wages and secure greater opportunities for full-time employment and benefits through the contract renegotiation, Weinrebe added.

“At the least, we hope to maintain the current conditions that were previously established in the last contract negotiation, and that’s important because whenever these negotiations take place, the union runs the risk of losing what’s been established previously,” she said.

Vice President for Operations Linda Snyder said that Tufts does not have a formal role in the negotiations between SEIU and UGL Unicco, but the contractor must check with its clients and consider various proposals as the negotiations move forward.

“Labor negotiations are very complicated,” Campbell said. “There are always many interests being weighed against each other, and SEIU represents a workforce much larger than UGL and much larger than Tufts.”

Herman and Weinrebe last month created a Change.org petition on behalf of TLC urging students to support custodians and demonstrate the importance of workers’ rights to the administration and UGL Unicco.

“The petition is a symbolic way of showing [University President Anthony] Monaco and the rest of Tufts that the student body is aware of the process that’s going on,” Weinrebe said. “I think that’s actually really important for the students because we are constituents here, and as students we may not feel as if we have a lot of voice in cases related to contract negotiations. We have a lot of power because the union cannot do much explicitly on this campus, but we can.”

The petition has gained almost 400 signatures as of press time, fewer than Herman and Weinrebe expected. Herman attributed this to the timing of this year’s negotiations, as it is easier to rally students behind the cause during the academic year, rather than over the summer.

“In the past there’s been more of a build-up and follow through, but because it’s in the summer, it’s hard to do that,” she said. “We’ve been trying really hard to have that student voice, but it does make it that much more difficult.”

TLC also supported the staff on April 26 by holding a rally on the upper patio of the Mayer Campus Center.

Snyder noted that the petition is a positive gesture towards Tufts janitors and that the administration shares this sentiment.

“[The petition] I am sure, is appreciated by the Tufts workforce,” she said. “When students are proposing a petition that is grateful and respectful and honors a group of employees, then that can’t not make employees feel good about their jobs, so…I hope it brings a kind of good collegial feeling of praise among our custodial employees.”

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