Tufts Labor Coalition organizes Halloween protest outside Gifford House

–Students, university staff and community members -- organized by Tufts Labor Coalition -- protest Tufts' labor practices outside Gifford House on Halloween evening. University President Anthony Monaco stands in the back, dressed as Gumby. Sofie Hecht / The Tufts Daily

Approximately 50 people gathered outside of Gifford House on Halloween evening to call for fair labor practices on Tufts’ campuses.

The group — organized by the Tufts Labor Coalition (TLC) — included students, custodial workers and their children and a few construction workers from non-Tufts affiliated projects.

Protesters gathered with banners and signs on the lawn outside University President Anthony Monaco’s door at 6 p.m. — where Monaco annually greets trick-or-treaters — and asked for a dialogue with the administration. Monaco remained outside throughout the entire event but did not answer questions or make any comments until the very end.

Speakers, representing different university-related labor efforts, delivered a total of five speeches to Monaco about Tufts’ labor practices.

Students asked what Monaco would do to help janitors who had been laid off during the restructuring of the university’s custodial staff last spring. They asked whether or not Monaco would be willing to work without benefits and take a 10 percent salary cut in order to give money to former Tufts janitors who had been laid off.

TLC member Nicole Joseph explained why TLC used Halloween as an opportunity to confront Monaco.

“We knew this was the only time workers and students would have access to Monaco, as he has never previously tried to work with or talk to workers,” Joseph, a sophomore, said. “We hoped he would have some response to workers’ grievances, but he only gave his continued silence in person.”

Among the protesters was Shamaiah Turner, a Somerville resident and sheet metal worker, who questioned Monaco’s values and intentions. She spoke about her experience as a worker and the importance of unions in her life.

“What kind of world are you trying to create?” Turner asked. “You are creating a two-tiered system with two classes of people. Being a part of a union has given me a platform to achieve my goals and support myself.”

Paula Castillo, a Tufts janitorial staff employee, also spoke up at the event. She asked Monaco to host a meeting involving students, janitors, Vice President for Operations Linda Snyder and Executive Vice President Patricia Campbell. Her speech was translated from Spanish by sophomore Arismer Angeles, a member of TLC.

“Do not ignore your students,” Castillo said. “They provide all the capital you get. We are people, not animals, and we deserve some respect as workers for this university.”

Lorain Chen, who graduated from Tufts in 2012, spoke about Tufts Medical Center workers. She said that the Medical Center workers have low salaries and low benefits, and have been trying to form a union in the face of strong opposition from the administration.

“Tufts University has always prided itself as being a light on the hill,” she said. “I hope you can hear the voices of your workers and create a just working environment.”

After listening to the various speeches, Monaco briefly thanked the students and workers for sharing their opinions but declined to comment further or answer questions at that time.

Executive Director of Public Relations Kim Thurler spoke on behalf of the president about the event.

President Monaco is always willing to listen to the views of all members of our community and supports the right of students, faculty and staff to engage in thoughtful and respectful dialogue,” she told the Daily in an email. “Each year he enjoys greeting trick-or-treaters at Gifford House in the spirit of fun that characterizes Halloween.”