Shortly after 3 p.m. today, five members of Tufts Labor Coalition (TLC) initiated an indefinite hunger strike to protest a pending cut to janitorial staff.
Strikers and student supporters set up an occupation on the academic quad at noon today, where they intend to stay until the administration agrees to postpone the proposed cuts until the spring of 2016. This postponement would give the union that represents the janitors, Service Employees International Union (SEIU) 32BJ, and Tufts’ facilities contractor DTZ time to renegotiate the janitors’ contracts.
TLC is calling the occupation site “area 35,” in reference to a March statement indicating that the university intended to cut 35 janitorial positions.
” We demand Tufts treat its workers right and discontinue worker cuts until 2016,” sophomore David Ferrándiz, a member of TLC, told those assembled at the occupation site. “To appreciate the amount of effort they put into the jobs… The workers are the engines of this campus.”
The strike is part of a continued effort by TLC to achieve a no-cuts policy. TLC has argued that the cuts will cause significant harm to the janitors who are laid off and overburden those who remain.
In an op-ed published in the Daily on April 27, Executive Vice President Patricia Campbell and Vice President of Operations Linda Snyder explained that the decision to restructure janitorial services came after considerable thought about how to best use Tufts’ resources.
“We are mindful of the sacrifices that many of our students and their families make to come to Tufts and take seriously our responsibility to control tuition costs and offer the financial aid that allows us to admit outstanding students from all socioeconomic backgrounds,” Campbell and Snyder wrote.
DTZ employee Paula Castillo said administrators are out of touch on the reality of the cuts’ impact, and said fellow janitors support the striker’s efforts.
“DTZ and Monaco are sitting at their desk and they don’t understand,” Castillo said. “The workers support the students striking; no one has done this for them before.”
Tufts custodial worker Adelaida Colon said that the janitors have felt significant discrimination from administration as a result of the cuts. She said cuts would not only have a damaging effect on the lives of the workers, but would also affect the quality of cleaning on campus due to an increase in workload for the remaining workers.
“The cuts will affect many workers, both part-time and full-time,” Colon said. “Many people will be affected, many will lose their work and many of us will receive a heavy load of work. Right now, we are giving the university good service and we have been giving it for 18 years, but if they do the cuts it will be an absolutely different job. The students won’t feel the same; it won’t be a complete service to the university. We feel discriminated against by the administration of Tufts and by DTZ.”
According to DTZ Vice President of Operations for the Greater Boston Area John Kennedy, DTZ hopes to offer any janitors laid off during the restructuring alternate positions at other locations in the Greater Boston area.
“DTZ has implemented a hiring freeze for its Boston-area custodial operations in order to facilitate placement for affected employees,” Kennedy said. “We respect their dedication and work ethic, and our goal is to ensure that this transition is completed with as little disruption as possible to our employees and to the university community.”
TLC has been challenging the cuts since November with protests, sit-ins, marches with the janitors and bi-weekly meetings to call administration and community attention to the plight of the janitors. Additionally, several TLC members were arrested by Somerville Police Department (SPD) officers at a protest on April 30. According to TLC member and first-year Nicole Joseph, however, the administration has continually dismissed the community’s concerns. The decision to begin a hunger strike was made to further call administrators’ attention to the community support for Tufts’ janitors and a demand for no cuts, she explained.
“Our decision to hunger strike and occupy space on campus is in solidarity with the janitors’ calls for no cuts,” Joseph said. “This culmination comes from a long history of Tufts treating workers poorly. We have decided to pursue this drastic action to make Tufts administrators’ priorities align with the rest of the Tufts community, given that all previous efforts from workers and students have been silenced and ignored.”
In their April 27 op-ed, Campbell and Snyder stated that the administration has worked with both DTZ and Tufts students throughout the process.
“We consulted with DTZ and with members of our own community on numerous occasions,” they wrote.
In a statement released to the media at the beginning of the strike, TLC explained that the hunger strike and occupation were intended to prevent the administration from disregarding their efforts. TLC said that the group has chosen to take these measures because the janitors themselves cannot strike under their contract. The statement emphasized that protestors are not invoking the hunger strike as a last resort.
Similarly, TLC said in the statement that the tents set up in occupation are intended to foster a community in solidarity with the janitors and to create a visual reminder of the impending cuts, not because the protestors lack shelter.
“We see this as a way to create an alternate community on this campus that stands for the priorities we as students believe the administration should uphold,” the statement read.
As of now, the administration has not been available for comment.