As it stands, @TuftsUniversity one of the richest universities in Massachusetts but many of us have to work two jobs or spend nearly half our paycheck on healthcare. This needs to change. #1u #UnbreakableAtTufts pic.twitter.com/Nj8XD7vmax
— UNITE HERE Local 26 (@UNITEHERE26) March 14, 2019
Dining workers voted to authorize a strike yesterday by a substantial margin of 137 to 17, according to a press release sent to the Daily by UNITE HERE Local 26, the union which represents the workers.
The vote gives the workers’ bargaining committee the authority to call a strike at any time according to the release, but no such announcement has been made yet.
“After eight months of negotiations for their first union contract, Tufts University administrators potentially face the first strike at a Boston-area university since the 2016 Harvard Dining Hall Workers Strike,” the release says.
In an email titled “Possible Changes in Tufts’ Dining Serices [sic] Operations,” sent to the Tufts community on Thursday afternoon, senior Tufts administration officials including University President Anthony Monaco and Executive Vice President Patricia Campbell wrote that Tufts Dining Services has developed a strike contingency plan to continue to feed students in the event that the bargaining committee calls a strike.
As they leave campus for spring break, the officials assured students that the university will notify students of any changes to operations and that the Tufts Dining Services website will have updated information on any changes in services.
The email also marked senior administration officials’ first direct response to the negotiations since they began in August. The officials wrote that the union and the university had made much progress in the talks and that they wanted an “equitable agreement” to be reached soon.
The vote follows an eight-hour negotiation session on Wednesday in which the two sides could not reach an agreement, according to Patrick Collins, Tufts’ executive director of public relations.
According to Collins, the two parties completed three rounds of proposals and counterproposals focusing on the economic issues that have been the key sticking points in the negotiations: wages, healthcare and the status of workers on temporary contracts.
“These new proposals represent substantial investment in the University’s dining employees, including lowering healthcare premiums for families by hundreds of dollars per month and increasing the wages of our lowest paid dining employees by approximately 20 percent over a four-year period,” Collins said in an email to the Daily.
Collins said that the union declined to respond to the university’s third counterproposal, ending negotiations for that day.
Mike Kramer, the lead negotiator for UNITE HERE Local 26, said in an email to the Daily that the two sides made progress on Wednesday, but they are still far from agreement on economic issues.
“Tufts Dining workers deserve a union contract that gives them the same wages and affordable healthcare that other Local 26 members have won,” he said. “We have said this since negotiations began and the entire Tufts community has embraced the [workers’] demands.”
UNITE HERE Local 26 President Brian Lang reaffirmed in the press release sent to the Daily last night that the union was making modest demands.
“We will see if Tufts has the moral integrity to rise to the occasion,” he said.
Zahra Warsame, a second cook at Carmichael Dining Center, told the Daily that she cast her ballot in favor of the strike as an act of solidarity with her coworkers.
“We’re all struggling to make the university understand that we need affordable health insurance for our families,” she said.
Warsame said that the prospect of the strike scares her, but that it is a necessary sacrifice.
“It’s either make a sacrifice now to make something greater happen or wait another 20 years or 10 years to achieve similar goals. So either way you’re suffering, you’re just choosing how fast it’s coming,” she said. “So I’m willing to go on strike, and my coworkers are willing to do the same thing for us to have a fair contract.”
A strike could be averted before students return from break. Dining workers at Northeastern University, who were also represented by UNITE HERE Local 26, also voted to authorize a strike. This never materialized, as the union and the university reached an agreement five days later, according to the Huntington News, the student newspaper at Northeastern.
On the other hand, a strike by Harvard dining workers in fall of 2016 lasted 22 days and resulted in the closing of several campus dining halls and cafés, according to the Harvard Crimson.
Many Tufts Dining student workers have signed pledges distributed by the union committing themselves not to “cross the picket line.”
“I understand and agree that students working during a potential strike at Tufts University would prevent workers from securing respect, equality and affordable healthcare,” a photo of the pledge reviewed by the Daily states.
Student activists praised the workers for their decision.
Jesse Ryan, a member of Tufts Dining Action Coalition (TDAC), said that students will support the workers in whatever they have to do to get a fair contact including a possible strike, even though this outcome would be difficult for the people involved.
“The thing is that Tufts has the power to ensure that a strike doesn’t happen, and it is Tufts responsibility to the workers and to their community to settle a fair contract in negotiations so that workers aren’t forced to strike for the basic standard of what they deserve,” Ryan, a sophomore, said in an electronic message to the Daily.
TDAC has led a series of actions to increase the pressure on the university, including phone banking — calling senior administration officials telling them to agree to a contract favorable to the workers — on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday of this week, according to the TDAC Facebook page.
Tufts officials referenced community outreach in their email to the Tufts community.
“The University has heard from a number of community members in the past weeks regarding the negotiations with the union, and we want to thank all those who have taken the time to share their concerns and comments with us,” they wrote.
They added that they welcome further input.
Collins said that Tufts has proposed additional negotiation sessions in the immediate future.