TLC holds community-wide rally supporting janitors during contract negotiations

Protestors rallying for janitor's rights march down Professor's Row on Oct. 22. (Courtesy Ben Britt)

About 175 people gathered outside Ballou Hall on a rainy Oct. 22 for a rally organized by Tufts Labor Coalition (TLC). The rally was in support of Tufts janitors’ demands for their contracts with Cushman & Wakefield (C&W) Services as the Oct. 31 contract negotiatation deadline approaches, according to TLC member junior Nicole Joseph. Among those in attendance were students, parents, janitors, state and local elected officials and community members.

The event started with speeches from attendees, including State Senator Pat Jehlen. During this time, the Second Line Social Aid and Pleasure Society Brass Band played music periodically, even putting some of TLC’s protest marches to music.

The group then marched to Davis Square, and from there a smaller group continued on to Harvard University to stand in solidarity with the Harvard dining hall workers on strike, according to Joseph.

While the janitors, represented by their union 32BJ Service Employees International Union (SEIU), are technically negotiating with C&W, a Tufts-hired contractor, and not the university, TLC said Tufts still has a responsibility to ensure the workers receive a fair contract.

“Tufts claims they have no say over the final contract because they have outsourced the job to C&W, but this isn’t true. Tufts has the power as they set the budget for C&W. They have the influence and power to veto the process at any time,” the group wrote in its Facebook description of the event.

Patrick Collins, executive director of public relations, said that Tufts, by law, could not participate in the negotiations.

“All wages, benefits and other terms and conditions of employment for C&W janitors who work at Tufts are determined by the site agreement negotiated between … the union that represents the janitors, and their employer, C&W,” Collins told the Daily in an email.

Janitors speaking at the event laid out their demands, which included a reduced workload and health insurance for part-time workers.

“One of the things that bothers me the most is the amount of work that Tufts gives and the amount of work that company is giving us without mercy,” janitor Juan Dume said, addressing the crowd in Spanish and English with the help of a translator. “We are fighting so that part-time workers can get full-time work so we can secure their health benefits and their health, for them and for their families.”

Students and parents speaking at the event highlighted the perceived hypocrisy between Tufts’ verbal commitment to social justice and the treatment of its workers.

“Tufts’ hypocrisy is deplorable,” Tufts Community Union (TCU) Senator Olivia Dehm, a senior, said, speaking in both English and Spanish.  “They teach students to value social activism and fight against social inequalities while treating workers as if they are disposable. We demand that Tufts stop shying away from their responsibility under the guise of subcontracted labor.”

TCU recently passed a resolution supporting the janitors.

Amy Subaey, a Tufts parent visiting for parents’ weekend, shared this sentiment.

“One of the reasons … Amira chose Tufts is because [of] their commitment to giving a voice to people that they see need a voice,” she said, referring to her daughter, a sophomore. “I think they need to stand up for what they believe … and can meet the commitments and demands of the janitors, which are very reasonable.”

Collins said the university respects and values both the janitors who work at Tufts and the rights of students to express their views on the negotiations.

Jehlen commended the activism, placing the janitors’ fight within a larger political context.

“Now, everyone’s talking about income inequality, but you all are doing something about it!” she said.

Frank Soults, senior communications associate of SEIU 32BJ, said that while negotiations could be going better, the rally was supposed to function as a general showing of support for the janitors rather than a comment on the negotiations’ progress.

“It’s not that we feel negotiations are hunky-dory, but it’s also not that we’re trying to make a statement that [negotiations] have stalled or anything like that going forward,” he said. “We want the administration to be clear that the students and the janitors themselves are all united and watching as these negotiations go forward and ready to take whatever might be necessary in the future.”

Collin said that the university hopes the negotiations between C&W and the 32BJ SEIU are successful.

“We have confidence in the process and believe that C&W and the SEIU will reach a fair agreement,” he said.

Joseph said that she was satisfied with the rally, and that she was glad that the turnout was high despite the rainy weather.

“It was a pretty fun march. It’s hard for people to stay out in the rain but a lot of people did stay, which is amazing and shows their dedication,” she said.

Daniel Caron contributed reporting to this article.