Facilities workers union files charges against university, claims workers’ rights violated

Service Employees International Union (SEIU) 32BJ New England District has filed an unfair labor practice charge against Tufts University with the National Board of Labor Relations following the university’s introduction of schedule changes set to be implemented on Sept. 5. The union is arguing that the university has failed to bargain appropriately about changes to facility workers’ schedules, according to SEIU Vice President Roxana Rivera.

The coming changes will shift the schedules of five current Tufts facilities workers from a Monday through Friday workweek to one from Tuesday through Saturday, Senior Facilities Director Stephen Nasson told the Daily in an email.

SEIU argues that these changes would negatively impact workers’ lives and that the workers’ rights to bargain over them have been violated.

“Workers are ready to sit down with Tufts to discuss alternatives that will meet their operational needs and allow this to be absorbed by the workers,” Rivera said. “Unfortunately, Tufts has not agreed to meet with workers and discuss these issues.”

Some facilities workers, who spoke on the condition of anonymity due to potential risk to their jobs, felt the schedule changes were made without an opportunity for them to voice their concerns.

“It was brought [to our attention] that there were going to be shift changes, major changes,” one worker said. “[Administrators] really didn’t announce it to us. We got it second hand.”

Nasson countered that the university did sufficiently complete the bargaining process. “We are confident that we have met all our obligations to bargain in good faith with the union,” he wrote.

The workers expressed several concerns about the proposed changes. In the past, opportunities for overtime pay were typically offered during the weekend. With some employees working on Saturday as part of their regular hours, workers are concerned that overtime shifts will no longer exist.

“[The administrators] want to make the [university a] 24/7 [operation], where in the past it’s been covered with overtime. The guys rely on overtime,” one worker said.

Nasson confirmed that the goal of the changes is to allow the university to run daily. “Tufts utilizes the campus seven days a week, and this trend is growing. We are seeing increased requests for weekend use of the Medford/Somerville campus for things like sporting events, student activities and guest lectures,” Nasson wrote, noting that a weekend shift is common at many universities.

However, Nasson explained that he did not think the changes would affect overtime hours.

“Overtime pay will remain the same, with any employee working more than 40 hours a week receiving overtime pay,” he added. “We expect some Saturday overtime hours will decrease, while there may be more overtime on Mondays than in the past.”

Workers countered that if the changes ultimately decrease overtime hours, they may lose a sizeable chunk of their income, noting that overtime pay accounts for about $8,000 to $10,000 of workers’ income on average.

“[Overtime pay] is an income [employees] are expecting … so to suddenly be switched and to have to work those same hours over the weekend and not receive compensation for it creates a pretty big change in people’s lives,” junior Nicole Joseph, a student organizer with the Tufts Labor Coalition, said. 

One worker believes that if the schedule changes ultimately took away overtime, an average work day would involve an unreasonable number of tasks. Workers pointed out that two vacancies on the staff — one of which they say has gone unfilled for over two years — already had them at workload capacity. 

“With no overtime, there’s going be more work over the course of an eight-hour day that [administrators] are trying to cram in,” he said. “And that means they want us to do more work in an eight hour day and we can’t do more than we’re doing now.”

According to Nasson, workload will not change and overtime shifts may be added if workers feel overburdened.

“If on any given Saturday, management feels the workload is beyond the capacity of the seven [workers], then overtime will be assigned as needed,” he wrote. He also noted that the administration is planning on hiring two workers to fill the two current vacancies on the grounds and labor staff. These workers would be hired to work the new Tuesday through Saturday schedule, Nasson wrote.

However, workers said that the administration had made a similar assertion in the past and that nothing had come of it.

“With this administration, there’s been no promotions and no new hires,” a worker said. “They’re not going to replace anybody that we’ve lost. There’s one guy who’s been out for more than two years. They have not replaced him. They promised us they’d replace him. That’s not happened.”

Finally, these scheduling changes may add other costs; workers said the weekend shift could result in additional childcare costs and inability to meet family obligations, such as taking care of elderly parents or babysitting grandchildren. They also noted that the new schedule could jeopardize the second jobs of some workers. “People’s lives are involved here,” a worker said.

Some workers feel that the changes indicate a lack of respect from their superiors.

“It means nothing to the administration about the impact to these guys,” a worker said. “Lack of any compassion. Nothing.”

Rivera said the union has notified the university that it has filed unfair labor practice charges. The National Labor Relations Board takes between 7 and 12 weeks to determine whether an unfair labor practices charge is valid, according to their website. As scheduling changes will soon go into effect, Rivera said she hopes that the university will respond to the union’s request to bargain.

“If [administrators] want to ram this through with no process, I think it’s unbecoming of the university to do that,” she said. “There should be [a] basic level of respect. Workers understand changes. It’s a lot easier to absorb once you talk through the implications of those changes.”