Tufts Labor Coalition holds rally, raises awareness for janitors’ contract negotiations

Tufts Labor Coalition members march alongside janitors on the Class of 2020's Matriculation Day, Aug. 31. (Max Lalanne/The Tufts Daily)

Tufts Labor Coalition (TLC) held a welcome-back rally on Matriculation Day to introduce incoming first-years, visiting parents and returning students to their ongoing fight for better working conditions and compensation for Tufts janitors.

At the rally, students and custodial workers listed their demands for an upcoming labor contract currently being negotiated between C&W Services– a contractor hired by Tufts– and the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 509 , which has a deadline of Sept. 30.

The rally, according to TLC member Nicole Joseph, was a way to “say welcome to the class of 2020 and their parents and let them know that our community here is strong.”

“We want to welcome them into joining this fight and into joining the janitors,” Joseph, a junior, said.

The rally kicked off as students began congregating at the Mayer Campus Center’s lower patio at 11:30 a.m. and were joined by janitors getting off for their lunch breaks at noon. At that point, students and janitors introduced themselves and their cause, handing out fliers to onlookers and holding signs.

“Today is August 31. The contract expires in one month from today,” a TLC member announced over megaphone. “So far the Tufts administration has not met the goals of the negotiating committee. So we will continue to fight until they do.”

Nearby, Joseph translated the speaking members’ words into Spanish for the the largely Spanish-speaking custodial staff.

Protesters proceeded to march through campus, starting at Latin Way and eventually ending in front of Ballou Hall. They concluded the rally chanting, “We’ll be back.”
During the event’s opening and closing remarks and in interviews conducted after the rally, janitors and students articulated their demands for the new contract. Many of these demands concern part-time workers, whose proportion has increased relative to full-time workers since the layoffs of 2014, according to Joseph.

Janitors said a fair contract would include health insurance for part-time workers, as well as paid sick leave and the hiring of more full-time employees.

Adelaida Colón, a full-time janitor, spoke about how the lack of health insurance has affected one of her part-time colleagues.

“For example, [my co-worker] is a single mom,” Colón said, her story translated from Spanish by SEIU organizer Carmen Henriquez. “Her husband was killed 15 years ago. She has two children. There is no way that, working part-time, she can put bread on the table and bring up her two children without health insurance.”

According to Joseph, custodial staff also desire a change in scheduling that would move away from weekend shifts that Joseph said take away from workers’ family time and shifts that make the burden on workers too high. Joseph also argued that the 2014 reorganization has caused the custodial team to be understaffed and overworked.

“All of the workload that was done by two or three people before, it gets done by one or two,” Colón said.

Workers and their supporters hoped the new contract would include protections against future layoffs and reorganizations such as those made in 2014 and the even more drastic cuts levied in 1997 (these reorganizations are detailed in the Daily’s “Tufts Janitors: A History“).

Finally, workers said that they wanted administrators to treat them with more respect and as contributing members of the community.

“We wanted to be treated as we are: human beings,” Colón said.

Keeping with the event’s mission of drawing incoming students to the janitors’ cause, Colón underscored the custodial staff’s reliance on student support.

“We want students to unite themselves in our struggle more than they are already. We have to win this long fight ahead of us, but without your support we can’t,” Colón said to onlookers at the campus center before the group marched. “We rely on your support for a fair and just contract.”

TLC member David Ferrándiz explained that students have a key role in showing support during the negotiation process.

“As students, I think it’s our obligation to maintain our support, show our support to our workers, and be here today, tomorrow and beyond in this struggle,” Ferrándiz, a senior, said.

CLARIFICATION: In an earlier version of this article it was written that Tufts was negotiating with SEIU when in fact C&W Services was negotiating with SEIU. The article has been updated accordingly.