Several hundred dining workers and Tufts students rallied Wednesday afternoon in support of dining workers’ attempts to unionize with UNITE HERE Local 26, a union that represents hospitality workers in Massachusetts and Rhode Island, according to their website. UNITE HERE was also the union that represented the Harvard University dining workers who struck a successful contract negotiation in 2016.
The rally culminated in dining workers and union representatives asking administrators to voluntarily recognize the union. If they do not within 30 days, workers will vote in an election held by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to determine whether the union will be formed, according to Edwin Jain, student dining employee and organizer. Jain, a junior, said he was confident an election would result in unionization. He mentioned that the union had provided workers with cards on which they could indicate their desire to join.
“The overwhelming majority, over 75 percent, of workers have signed their cards,” he said. “We will win.”
Students gathered outside the Dewick-MacPhie Dining Center at 1:30 pm and traveled from there to Ballou Hall. Jain invited the crowd to turn toward Dewick to “show the workers how much we appreciate them.” This invitation was greeted by a chant which would recur throughout the protest: “We see you, we love you.”
“They want a better workplace and a better life for them and their families,” Jain said to the crowd. “Managers are trying to scare them, but we’re here to show that we have their backs.”
Shortly after 1:30 pm, the crowd marched up Latin Way toward Professors Row and turned onto Packard Avenue toward Ballou Hall. TUPD moved cars to block traffic at intersections once the marchers reached these locations.
Chants from the marchers were led by student organizers and included “Hey hey, ho ho, intimidation has got to go” and “The students and workers will never be defeated.” Students held signs saying “Students stand with dining workers” and “Thanks for feeding us!”
Upon reaching Ballou Hall, marchers surrounded the north-facing entrance of the building. Workers unrolled a banner with the faces of dozens of dining workers in support of the union, with the phrase “Unbreakable” written across the top.
Student organizers and workers addressed the crowd in front of Ballou, including junior Andrew Jefferies, who read from a coalition statement signed by over 40 student groups in support of the dining workers’ unionization.
“We, students of Tufts University, stand with Tufts dining workers. We know that Tufts dining workers are the heart of this campus, and have made it our home away from home. Tufts dining workers deserve a workplace with respect and dignity, free from discrimination and exploitation,” the statement read. “We are united as a community in support of the workers’ demand for a union.”
Two Tufts University Police Department (TUPD) sergeants and Chief of Police Kevin Maguire stood at the top of steps. UNITE HERE representative Michael Kramer spoke to Maguire, requesting to speak with university administrators. Kramer asked to speak to administrators, but Maguire responded that the president was not in his office. After Kramer reiterated his request, Maguire assented and entered the building, staying inside for several minutes.
University Executive Vice President Patricia Campbell and Senior Vice President for University Relations and General Counsel Mary Jeka emerged from Ballou and spoke to Kramer and Lucson Aime, a Tufts Dining worker, who presented their petition for the formation of a union to the administrators.
“This is the petition, where the overwhelming majority of Tufts Dining workers have expressed their support for forming a union,” Kramer said. “We’re asking that the university voluntarily recognize the union.”
Campbell promised to be in contact with the union, but declined to respond further or set a date for a future meeting.
“We’re going to talk as a group because the president is not part of this conversation, and we’ll also talk to some of the other people involved,” Campbell said.
Kramer, addressing the urgency of formal recognition for the dining workers’ efforts, brought up the fear of retaliation from workers’ managers.
“Many of these people have had managers of their dining halls harass and intimidate them over the last 48 hours,” Kramer told Campbell. “Is that going to continue?”
Campbell’s response was that she would “talk to anyone who does [harass workers],” adding that “I also want you to respect the managers please, because they work hard too.”
Jeka concurred, saying the managers “have a job to do, to run these dining halls.”
Tringale responded to this by saying, “No, we run them! We’re here for the students, and the students are here for us!” before Campbell and Jeka took the petition back into Ballou.
In a press release posted on the UNITE HERE Local 26 website, Local 26 president Brian Lang commended the decision by dining workers to join the union.
“We are proud that Tufts University dining hall workers have chosen to join Local 26, along with dining hall workers from a majority of [the] Boston area,” he said.
According to Christine Tringale, a supervisor at Hodgdon Food-on-the-Run who has worked in Tufts Dining Services for the past eight years, one of the main reasons she is supporting unionization is the mistreatment she and her colleagues are subject to from their managers.
“The managers do not have our back. They constantly hide our complaints, they choose favoritism … and basically, the harassment. They constantly try and push your buttons,” Tringale said. “It’s not right. It’s been going on too long. There’s people who’ve been there for over 20 years and they’ve seen some horrible things. We just want fairness.”
Tringale added that they felt management limited employees’ ability to provide quality meals for students.
“We’re chefs. We spend $40–60 thousand on culinary school, we want to show you our creativity, we want to show you nice things and we can do that but they won’t let us,” she said.
Tringale also said that managers schedule workers’ hours with little regard for their needs. Grazia DiFabio, a dining worker at Tufts for the past 13 years, said that she’s experienced this as well.
“The managers threatened me with the schedule,” she said, referring to the fact that her schedule for next week has been left blank, leaving her uncertain of future plans. “One and a half years ago, my husband passed away. My daughter needs me. I need them, I need support from my bosses.”
“Tufts is a beautiful campus. We want to work here happily, and a union will let us do that,” DiFabio added.
According to Jain, his experiences in dining have given him ample evidence of workers’ need for a union.
“Things I’ve heard from workers … showed me that there were some serious things wrong here,” he said. “People feel stressed at work. People feel like they can’t talk to each other. People are scared at work … People feel overworked, stressed and underpaid.”
Jain added that managers have used intimidation tactics in the past two days in an attempt to prevent them from organizing.
UNITE HERE representative Mike Kramer outlined the union’s goal in organizing with dining workers.
“Our goal, and the goal of Local 26, is to support Tufts dining workers as they form a union and joining Local 26 so that they have a voice in their jobs and can take on some of the problems that you’ve heard about,” Kramer said.
Tufts University Police Department (TUPD) posted four officers inside the building in the lead up to the event. According to TUPD Lieutenant Joseph Tilton, the officers were placed to ensure normal operations in Dewick.
“We just want to make sure business isn’t disrupted,” Tilton said. When asked whether he thought this was likely, Tilton said he didn’t know whether or not it was.
Maguire explained the police presence in an email to the Daily.
“As we do for all large gatherings on campus, we facilitate those gatherings and keep students safe as they exercise their First Amendment rights … and we balance the rights of students to exercise their First Amendment rights with the needs of occupants of university facilities to maintain the business atmosphere of those facilities,” he wrote.
Jain said he was inspired by the student turnout.
“I think that it was one of the greatest demonstrations of collective power that this campus has seen in a very long time,” he said. “Hundreds of students showing up at a time when there are a lot of classes going on, I think that’s very powerful.”
Nick Golin, a junior who participated in the rally, said that one of the reasons he wanted to show support was because of the crucial but unsung role that the dining workers play at Tufts.
“[The dining workers] provide so much and so consistently, and it’s an aspect of our college experience that most people take for granted,” Golin said. “They become invisible to a lot of people, and it’s important to make them visible.”
Kramer affirmed the importance of dining workers on every campus.
“I think on every university campus where we have members in the dining halls, their most natural allies are the students who they serve every day who they build deep relationships with and who they have real care for, and that means a lot to them in their day to day work and in a struggle like this, it means even more,” Kramer said when asked about the importance of student support for unionization.
Patrick Collins, Tufts executive director of public relations, said the university respects the right of employees to seek unionization.
“We value our dining services employees and the important work they do for Tufts and its students,” Collins wrote to the Daily in an email. “We respect the rights of employees to seek an election to decide for themselves whether unionization is in their best interests.”
When asked for comment, Director of Dining and Business Services Patti Klos deferred to Collins’ statement. Both John Beaulac, unit manager at Dewick MacPhie, and Peter Soucy, unit manager at Carmichael Dining Hall, did not respond to the Daily’s requests for comment in time for publication.
Kramer said that while UNITE HERE and the workers it hopes to represent are not satisfied with the university’s response to the petition, he believed the rally had accomplished more.
“We accomplished the goal of showing the university that the overwhelming majority of workers have made a decision, that they have decided they are forming a union and that they have the support of the student body,” he said.
Students dispersed shortly after the rally, as it was sleeting.
“They show up for us every day, in snow and rain, and we need to show up for them, through snow and rain,” Jain said.
Tringale emphasized the role that the university and its students play in dining workers’ day-to-day lives as well.
“We’re here 90 percent of the time. It’s like our second home,” she said.
When asked what the workers were fighting for by attempting to unionize, Aime had a simple answer.
“We are fighting for fairness,” he said.
CORERECTION: This article has been updated to clarify that Michael Kramer is a UNITE HERE representative and edited to provide more information on the interchange between protesters and administrators at Ballou Hall.