Labor Day rally sustains opposition to janitorial restructuring

Students and janitors marched from Powderhouse Square to Ballou Hall in a rally against custodial staff cuts. Nicholas Pfosi / The Tufts Daily

Janitors and students continued their fight against janitorial staff cuts this Monday at 10 a.m. with a rally organized by Service Employees International Union (SEIU) 32BJ and Tufts Labor Coalition (TLC).

Tufts University Police Department (TUPD) blocked vehicle traffic as marchers walked from Powderhouse Square through campus to Ballou Hall, where TLC has held many protests, including a week-long hunger strike in May.

According to Director of Public Relations Kim Thurler, the number of layoffs — originally estimated to affect about 35 people — “was reduced to four through voluntary transfers to other DTZ sites, resignations, filling open positions at Tufts and elimination of temporary positions.” It is unclear how many DTZ employees who were not among the four people laid off have left the university for other reasons since the reorganization.

At the rally, sophomore TLC member Nicole Joseph read and translated a letter from former DTZ employee Lorena Arita, who was laid off. In her letter, Arita wrote that she has two children she must care for, but since she lost her job two weeks ago she has been feeling very sick and depressed. She said she was offered another job by DTZ; however, the job was fewer hours and had an inconvenient schedule for her family.

Several janitors told stories about their work experiences at Tufts since the university’s facilities contractor, DTZ, implemented the reorganization this summer. DTZ employee Paula Castillo explained that some senior workers are experiencing health issues, such as exhaustion, and missing their lunch break in order to finish their work in time.

“Based on how long people have been working here, people deserve raises, especially the older people who aren’t as strong as they used to be,” Castillo said through an SEIU 32BJ organizer, who translated from Spanish. “Most of them are full-time workers that are getting fuller workloads … The pressure that we have is the main issue. [I have] a companion, and she doesn’t take breakfast or lunch because of her work.”

Sandra Ventura, who has worked at Tufts for 15 years, spoke about how her schedule affected her ability to care for her son. She said she is no longer able to take him to school in the morning or give him his medication in the afternoon, so she now pays for daily child care, a costly addition to her budget.

Jason Feria, a member of SEIU involved in higher education contracts, also addressed the impacts of the restructuring on the remaining DTZ employees. He said that many janitors have been faced with a radical change to their usual work hours, which has had a dramatic effect on many lives.

“Some workers had enough time to land on their feet; however, many of [the janitors’] shifts have been the same for 15 years,” Feria said. “None of their shifts look like they did when the students left … People’s lives have been turned upside down.”

In response to the rally, Thurler stressed that minimizing the impact on DTZ facilities staff members has been Tufts’ priority throughout the reorganization.

“The restructuring of our custodial services is part of a university-wide effort to ensure that we are directing our limited resources in support of our core educational and research mission, while making every effort to limit the impact to as few members of the custodial team that serves Tufts as possible,” she said. “We have worked hard to do that.”

Catherine Perloff contributed reporting to this article.

Correction: The original version of this article stated that Lorena Arita “resigned due to shift changes.” A modification to this article reflects the fact that Arita was laid off.