Students advocate for dining workers at campus tours, E-Week carnival

Members of Tufts Dining Action Coalition (TDAC) continued their campaign in support of the Tufts Dining workers in their contract negotiations with the university last Monday by interrupting campus tours and distributing handouts to the participants. They later unveiled banners in the Science and Engineering Complex (SEC) during the Engineering Week (E-Week) Kick-Off Carnival later that day.

The student activists started the day in Dowling Hall, where they made announcements in support of the workers to touring prospective students before the 9:30 a.m., 10:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. campus tours, according to Jesse Ryan, a TDAC organizer.

Then, at around 2 p.m., several student activists fanned out across campus in the steadily falling snow and freezing temperatures with megaphones and more handouts to stop groups as they made their way around the hill.

Ryan explained that the objective of the action was not to dissuade prospective students from applying or attending Tufts but rather to bring attention to the university’s labor policies.

“[The goal] is to educate people about what’s actually going on here and to counter the picture-perfect image the university sells on their tours and in their admissions pamphlets and tell people what the reality of this campus is. The workers, the student organizers and activists who are here make up a lot more of the Tufts community than the university would like to tell people on the tours,” Ryan, a sophomore, said.

Alex Aronson, a Tufts tour guide whose tour of about 20 prospective students and parents was interrupted by TDAC in front of Ballou Hall, said that tour guides were prepared to handle the interventions by student activists and that a response had been discussed ahead of time.

“The way we present it back out to the prospective students is that social activism is a big part of student life on campus, and it’s your choice to be a part of it or not,” she said.

However, Aronson did take issue with the activists having interrupted her while she was talking and said that she told TDAC members that in the future they should tell the tour guides they have something to say.

Requests for comment made to Tufts Admissions were referred to Patrick Collins, executive director of public relations.

“One of the most distinctive and important parts of a Tufts education is our emphasis on civic life and civic engagement,” he said in an email to the Daily. “We respect the right of students to voice their opinions on this and other issues.”

Ryan said the group had gotten a mix of responses from tour participants, with encouragement and curiosity coming from many perspectives.

Amy Psaila, a prospective student’s parent visiting from New York whose group had been addressed by TDAC members, said that this kind of student activism is what college is about.

[Tufts is] going to have to deal with student advocates. They have a student body who cares, and hopefully they’ll be responsive,” she added.

Nick Hatzis-Schoch, a prospective student from Newton, Mass., said that the activists had not affected whether he would apply to Tufts, but that on all the other college tours he had been on, participants had never been approached by student activists.

“I was a little confused at first as to what they were doing, but after I read their little pamphlet they had handed out, I was a little intrigued and thought I maybe could support the cause at some point,” Hatzis-Schoch said.

The pamphlets, which bore the logo of UNITE HERE Local 26, the union representing the dining workers in their contract negotiations, read: “Tufts can’t compare itself to Harvard, Northeastern, Lesley, Simmons or MassArt.”

Ryan explained this is meant to allude to the union’s claim that Tufts compensates its workers less than the institutions to which the university is often compared on tours.

The pamphlet also carried a testimonial by Zahra Warsame, a second cook at Carmichael Dining Hall, in which she criticized the healthcare provided by the university as unaffordable. Finally, the pamphlet directly appealed to prospective students to tweet out their support for the dining workers.

TDAC continued demonstrations later that day at the E-Week Kick-Off Carnival in the SEC atrium.

Just before 4:40 p.m., TDAC activists dropped six banners from the walkways over the Dearborn Ave. doors with messages such as “fair contract now” and “healthcare is a human right.”

Noah Harris, a TDAC member who participated, explained that the action did not focus on engineers despite taking place during E-Week. The focus was on increasing visibility and keeping up pressure on the university even on a holiday.

“This is the students saying to the university that we aren’t taking breaks from this campaign, and we want to show the university that we’re fully on the workers’ side,” he said.

The university disputed the view of the negotiations that was presented by TDAC on Monday.

Collins wrote that the two sides have continued to make progress with the university’s negotiation team, led by Joseph P. McConnell from the Boston legal firm Morgan, Brown & Joy LLP, and that they had reached tentative agreement on 10 issues ranging from immigration to workplace harassment at the last bargaining session which took place Feb. 5.

“The university is glad to be entering the final phase of bargaining, and looks forward to learning more about the union’s economic positions,” he said.

The union did not respond to request for comment on the negotiations by press time, but Lior Appel-Kraut (A ’18), an organizer for the union, confirmed to the Daily in an electronic message that the next session of negotiations will take place on Feb. 27.

The banner drop met a mixed reception from the carnival’s attendees.

A first-year at one of the carnival booths, Nick Ragusa, said that while he supports the campaign himself, he did not think the demonstration would be as effective as activists may have hoped.

“I feel like all the kids here agree with them. I don’t think they’re going to get more to support it, plus there’s no administration people here,” he said.

Thomas Coons, a senior who organized the carnival, told the Daily he had been a little worried when he first saw the activists, but that in the end, the demonstration wasn’t “obtrusive” and had not distracted too much from the event, though he said he wished TDAC had informed him.

However, Coons thought it was a wise strategy on the part of TDAC to bring their campaign to an engineering event.

“You can see [engineering students are] less civically engaged, particularly within the Tufts community,” he said. “I know I’ve spoken with a lot of engineers who are aware of [the negotiations], but in general it’s true.”