Administration issues statement on custodial services, TLC leads opposition

Executive Vice President of Tufts University Patricia Campbell receives Tufts Labor Coalition's demands during a brief action on Monday, Nov. 24. Nicholas Pfosi / The Tufts Daily

Tufts administration released an announcement on “Custodial Services at Tufts” on Nov. 21, which outlined the current status of the recently signed contract between Tufts and DTZ, the outside contractor for Tufts janitors. The plan DTZ is developing in accordance with the new contract was also mentioned, though changes are not expected until March at the earliest, according to Vice President for Operations Linda Snyder.

The statement was met with opposition from some students over potential layoffs for janitors, with Tufts Labor Coalition (TLC) organizing a teach-in on Wednesday evening. TLC submitted a petition yesterday to Tufts administration demanding better and more open communication, increased accountability and that no cuts be made, according to TLC President Lior Appel-Kraut.

The announcement, which was released by Snyder and Executive Vice President Patricia Campbell, emphasized a number of goals set forth in the new contract.

“What we said in that letter is that we have multiple goals; one is efficiency, one is increasing the percentage of full-time workers and one is sustainability,” Snyder said. “And the sustainability one in particular takes time, because you have to communicate, you have to think it through and then DTZ needs to think about how its workforce is allocated.”

University President Anthony Monaco noted that the goal of increasing the percentage of full-time workers is a major issue, and that Tufts has been pressing DTZ to present a plan that would help the university achieve this goal.

“So if you want to do that, you’re going to have to change the architecture of the workforce so that you don’t have as many part-time people and more full-time,” he said.

The announcement indicated that the new contract stipulates that DTZ prepare a plan in pursuance with these objectives on all three of Tufts’ campuses.

“[DTZ is] responsible to meet efficiency and cleaning targets,” Snyder said. “So we don’t tell them how many people they have to hire or what to do. They have standards in the contract that they’re required to meet, including sustainability standards. So they are taking time to really understand it.”

Tufts students, including members of TLC, have responded to the potential for janitorial layoffs with activism on campus, including the petition submitted yesterday as well as an email campaign to contact Tufts administrators, according to Appel-Kraut, a sophomore.

“The [announcement] itself essentially continued the same inexcusable sort of rhetoric that they’ve been using to excuse themselves of cuts that they want to make, so claiming that this is the only way to get more full-time workers is one way that they’re excusing their actions and claiming that these actions will be more sustainable and that we need more efficiency,” she said.

Appel-Kraut said that the petition they submitted yesterday received a few hundred signatures and over a hundred people attended the teach-in last week. She added that about 20 to 25 students helped deliver the petition to Ballou Hall, carrying signs with quotes from students and janitors against the possible cuts.

“I’m personally overwhelmed by the amount of support that people have been showing towards our janitors — people are really coming together and rallying around this,” James Gordon, a member of TLC, said.

Snyder underscored the potential positive effects of the new contract as moving toward improving service, meeting cleaning standards, being as efficient as possible and increasing sustainability. She cited the recent approval by the Board of Trustees of a new central energy plant that will allow Tufts to produce up to 90 percent of its own electricity with a 20 percent reduction in greenhouse gases. The objective of the new plant will be to achieve more sustainable operations and lower costs in order to support funding for other goals, such as research, teaching, scholarship and learning, she added.

“The potential negative effects are that there will be personnel impacts,” Snyder said. “I don’t know today, I don’t think it’ll be broad, I don’t think it’ll be huge, it will be very carefully managed, but there will have to be some personnel changes. And that’s why we’re talking about this early so that we can get the word out.”

The announcement stated that once Tufts and DTZ have agreed on an actionable plan, “DTZ will put forth its best efforts to ensure that custodians whose positions at Tufts are adversely affected by the moves toward more full-time workers or increased efficiency will receive full consideration for other openings within DTZ.

Gordon, a sophomore, disputed the pursuit of the objectives set forth in the contract.

“Once again, they’re just trying to hide behind these big words of efficiency and sustainability and greenwash this issue and shove it under the carpet,” he said.

Appel-Kraut also discussed the objective of efficiency, noting that it demonstrates a lack of communication.

“In terms of efficiency, I think that it shows a big disconnect when members of the janitorial staff are expressing that they are already overworked and they already clean large amounts of space every hour of their shift,” she said.

Monaco, however, highlighted the need to push for increased efficiency in light of how Tufts compares to other institutions.

“The second thing in the contract, as was outlined, was the realization that when you compare the efficiency of how we do custodial work at Tufts, it is below and significantly below the average at other places,” he said. “And so we started to explore with [DTZ], well why did they think we were covering less ground with the same number of people.”

Snyder also emphasized the important role of increasing sustainability, adding that the objective is not in fact greenwashing.

“I was sad to read the university’s sustainability efforts called greenwashing in [an op-ed in] the Tufts Daily, which really is not true,” she said. “Many, many institutions have found that if they change how they service offices, they can decrease the waste stream, improve recycling rates, and we’re wanting to [move] towards a zero-waste university.”

According to Snyder, Tufts is in the process of reviewing its waste-management system. The goal is to decrease the waste stream and increase recycling, with pilot waste-management programs on each of Tufts’ campuses.

“If we could reduce those visits [to empty waste bins and replace trash bags], it’s good for the environment, it would hopefully promote recycling and it would allow the workforce to be put onto tasks where we know there is still a considerable amount of work, which is of course the dining halls, the social areas like the [Mayer] Campus Center and of course all the dorms,” Monaco said.

Appel-Kraut explained that she views other sustainability initiatives as more important.

“In terms of sustainability, I think the administration has been pressured by students for lots of ways to be more sustainable, and decreasing the number of liners of garbage bags is not the best way or the only way for us to do it,” she said.

Gordon noted that he is unsure of when action might be taken by the administration, but one of TLC’s biggest obstacles has been a lack of information and transparency about the terms of the new contract.

“So right now we’re just trying to demand some degree of accountability and some degree of visibility, and our biggest demand right now is just that the administration stop outsourcing accountability to DTZ and take some responsibility for the janitorial staff,” he said, adding that TLC’s end goal is that no cuts be made.

Snyder noted that the administration wants to be forthcoming and forthright about the process because it knows it is not a simple matter. She also emphasized that when resources are constrained and the objective is to meet goals for a better planet, choices have to be made.

“We are in a time where the university has very bold aspirations, and we have to figure out how to fund those aspirations … [including] financial aid, research and faculty,” she said.

Appel-Kraut said that TLC and other students will continue to put pressure on the administration until it agrees to not make any cuts, and for the time being, TLC plans to continue meeting with representatives from the janitors and expanding its media outreach.

“As time goes on, we’ll continue to ramp up our escalation, so this is not sort of like an end point, this is another step in the direction,” she said.