University administrators and representatives from Tufts Labor Coalition (TLC) held their bi-weekly meeting in the Mayer Campus Center today to discuss the university’s plans to make cuts to janitorial staff. The meeting took place in the midst of a five-student hunger strike in protest of the proposed cuts, which began last Sunday, May 3.
TLC held a silent protest on the second floor of the Campus Center as the meeting, which began early in the afternoon, took place. Dozens of protestors held signs, some reading “Justice for Janitors” and “People over Profit.” According to some of the signs, the hunger strikers entered their 47th hour without food during the meeting.
TLC leaders left the meeting first, followed by administrators, including Executive Vice President Patricia Campbell and Vice President of Operations Linda Snyder. Snyder said another meeting would take place tomorrow.
“We had a very productive meeting and we’re going to have another one tomorrow,” Snyder said. “We always enjoy talking with students.”
Yesterday, protestors and dozens of janitors held a teach-in at TLC’s occupation site, dubbed “area 35,” on the academic quad, at which they handed out flyers and discussed the history of the treatment of janitors, specifically the trend of outsourcing janitorial services starting in the 1990s. Many of the janitors carried signs reading “Respect.”
Junior Bridget Kernan, medical liaison for the strikers, explained how TLC is working with external volunteers and medical professionals to ensure the strikers’ health as they go longer without food.
“We do have people on call and we have access to people who are volunteering, which is really great to see — people we don’t even know stepping up and asking us how they can help,” Kernan said.
Kernan explained that in these first few days of the hunger strike, risk of serious medical issues are low, so care of the strikers has mostly focused on monitoring their vital signs. The longer the strike goes on, the more dangerous it will be, so the medical team will implement additional means of protecting the strikers’ health, she said.
“We’re going to be minimizing their movement, we’re looking to get wheelchairs so that they won’t be walking anymore soon, and trying to avoid emergency situations where someone might fall and hurt themselves, and then keep monitoring their health … so we can see whatever next steps are necessary,” Kernan said.
Earlier that day, Stacey Sperling, a physician at Health Service, came to the occupation site to speak with strikers about the dangers of hunger strikes.
Kernan feels the response from university-affiliated health workers and emergency responders, including Tufts Emergency Medical Services (TEMS), has not been supportive of the strikers’ motivations.
“We’ve had to look outside the university for medical professionals who are willing to support us and work with us, instead of just being antagonistic,” she said.