Tufts Labor Coalition (TLC) met with members of the Tufts administration at 12:00 p.m. today — the fourth day of a five-student hunger strike — to further discuss the proposed restructuring of Tufts’ custodial staff. The meeting was the second in as many days and resulted in a proposal from the administration to decrease the number of affected janitorial positions to 20, according to Director of Public Relations Kim Thurler.
In March, Vice President of Operations Linda Snyder told the Daily that 35 cuts were being considered, but according to an April 27 op-ed that Snyder and Executive Vice President Patricia Campbell wrote to the Daily, the administration “[did] not yet know how many custodians will be affected by the reorganization.”
DTZ Vice President of Operations for the Greater Boston Area John Kennedy confirmed the new number of proposed cuts in a separate statement, which the Daily received today. “[20 layoffs] is 43 percent fewer than the 35 employees discussed at the forum held on March 27,” Kennedy said in the statement.
However, TLC said in a statement that this reduction in cuts merely reflects a previous error on the administration’s part in interpreting the contract that Service Employees International Union (SEIU), the union that represents Tufts’ janitors, holds with DTZ. Representatives of DTZ did not respond to requests for comment on this claim.
According to President of TLC Lior Appel-Kraut, while 20 cuts based on seniority is an improvement on the previously proposed number of cuts, TLC has agreed to continue advocating for no cuts until 2016 rather than at the end of May.
“We have reiterated as many times as possible that we’re not a negotiating body, we’re here to bring forward and lift up a demand of the workers who they won’t listen to,” Appel-Kraut said.
Ander Pierce, one of the hunger strikers, said that one of his main issues with even 20 cuts is that many of the janitors rely on a steady income to support multiple family members, and for many it will be difficult to find new jobs in time to continue that support.
“Some of these people have been with the school for 18 years, now they’re losing their jobs, and there are people who are … supporting four children, supporting their grandparents overseas in Cuba,” Pierce, a first-year, said. “They’re all people of color, a lot of them are immigrants, a lot of them are well past their prime. Finding another job is not going to be easy and it’s going to take time, and while it is, they’re not going to be able to extend the support that the people around them need.”
As the meeting began, TLC members congregated in front of Ballou Hall with several large bags full of trash which, according to signs they carried, signified the extra work that remaining janitors would have to take on if jobs are cut. Moments later, the students participating in the hunger strike arrived in front of Ballou, accompanied by other student protestors and members of Tufts’ custodial staff.
Many of the janitors arriving in support of the protest carried roses with them, which they gave to the strikers in a demonstration of gratitude. Some spoke about their reactions to the proposed restructuring and shared personal details about how the cuts could affect them.
According to Appel-Kraut, TLC was asked by administrators to bring proposals of concessions they would be willing to make in order to end the strike. TLC proposed cuts to top administrators’ salaries and reductions in spending on some student-related expenses, such as fireworks shows, she said.
“We think [it would] make a lot more sense to make financial cuts, because they are a lot further outside of Tufts’ central mission of education, and one of those things is the top administrator salaries,” she said.
Appel-Kraut said administrators rejected the possibility of salary cuts, which she said they called “disrespectful.” TLC has been asked to bring new proposals to tomorrow’s meeting, but Appel-Kraut hopes the administration will consider making further concessions of its own.
“Our demands have stayed the same, so hopefully they will this time bring something real forward that would give us and the workers reason to stop the protest,” she said.
In response to questions about TLC’s alternative proposals for adjusting the university’s budget, Thurler said that the administration is compelled to reevaluate all of Tufts’ expenses.
Today’s negotiations follow a meeting that took place yesterday. Nicole Joseph, a TLC member and first-year, expressed her frustrations with yesterday’s meeting in TLC’s statement.
“[Administrators] came to the meeting with no proposals or plans of negotiating to meet workers’ and students’ demands,” she said.
According to New England Cable News, an administration spokesperson said that TLC members “did not agree to negotiations” regarding the cuts at yesterday’s meeting.
As the strikers walked to the site of today’s meeting and demonstration, they were assisted by other students on their walk over; according to TLC, they are “experiencing symptoms of physical weakness” as a result of not having eaten since Sunday.
“Walking around makes me dizzy, and I can feel my focus wavering at times,” Mica Jarmel-Schneider, one of the students participating in the hunger strike, said Monday night.
Pierce added that he, too, is experiencing dizziness and a lack of focus, though he and the other strikers have been conserving energy by sleeping and lying down.
“Mica has spent a lot of today napping, [Zoe Jeka’s] blood pressure has been dropping pretty drastically every day,” he said. “Jenna [Sherman] seems good but tired. [Arismer Angeles] is good but tired.”