Student activists and representatives from the Tufts Dining workers’ union updated a standing-room only crowd of students on the state of contract negotiations between the university administration and the workers last night in the Alumnae Lounge.
Mike Kramer, the lead negotiator for UNITE HERE Local 26 which represents the dining workers, was blunt about the prospect of a strike, which has been looming over campus since workers voted overwhelmingly to authorize a strike two weeks ago.
Kramer said that the union would prefer to avoid a strike, as it would be difficult for dining workers, but that the workers are prepared to make that choice.
“Make no mistake, if there is not serious action taken by the Tufts administration within a very short time period, there will be a strike on this campus. That strike will be soon,” Kramer said. “If [the administrators] want to avoid a crisis on this campus the time to act is right now.”
He urged students to continue to support the dining workers by putting pressure on the university and said that more details about the strike would be released in the coming days.
No announcement of a strike has been made yet, but the union’s bargaining committee could call for one at any time.
The meeting was led by Luca Rogoff and Jaclyn Tsiang, two members of Tufts Dining Action Coalition (TDAC).
Much of the meeting was devoted to instructing students on what to do in the event of a strike.
Rogoff, a first-year, told meeting attendees that students with meal plans who wish to support the dining workers should still go to dining halls because they have already paid Tufts.
He added that offerings in dining halls would likely be curtailed and encouraged students to be vocal about any reduction in services.
“If services are not up to par, which, if all of our staff is gone, is probably going to be the case, start reporting that and start complaining and saying, ‘I’ve already paid for my meals, I don’t understand why you’re not getting food on this campus, and why you’re treating [your] workers so poorly that they can’t come into work,’” Rogoff said.
Rogoff announced that fundraisers will be held to raise money for the union strike fund and encouraged students to donate, as workers would not be paid during a strike.
However, Rogoff said that students should not pay Tufts for food at places like Kindlevan Café or the Campus Center.
TDAC will carry out a series of actions in the coming days, Tsiang, a junior, said. The group will lead delegations of students today and on Thursday to confront administrators in their offices about the negotiations.
Tsiang also asked students to join dining workers in a “practice” picket outside Carmichael Hall that will take place on Friday afternoon.
Since the strike authorization vote on March 14, the two sides have met three times, twice with the presence of a mediator from the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, according to both Kramer and Patrick Collins, Tufts’ executive director of public relations.
Collins said that the two sides had made progress on the issues of wages, healthcare and “a small number of other issues.”
“We are hopeful that we will come to an agreement soon, and look forward to resuming our negotiations with the union later this week,” Collins said.
Kramer disagreed with this view in an interview with the Daily, saying that on the key issues of wages, healthcare and the use of temporary contracts, the two sides are still “far apart,” echoing comments he made to the Daily two weeks ago.
However, Kramer said that the presence of a federal mediator simply indicated that the negotiations are contentious, and that this is not a sign of the direction of negotiations.
As the university braces for a strike by dining workers, many student dining workers have also pledged to not show up to work if the bargaining committee calls a strike; two of them, Mia Lambert and Samee Mushtak, also spoke to the assembled students.
Lambert, a senior who works at the Central Kitchen and Bakery, said that almost 70 percent of student dining workers have signed the pledge.
“I want to say for myself and a lot of other student workers that this was not an easy choice. A lot of us really need the money we make, and it’s not easy to say that we’re not going to work,” Lambert said. “At the same time, we are making that choice … because all of these people are doing a lot of really difficult things.”
Tufts Director of Dining and Business Services Patti Klos sent a short statement emailed to the Daily that closely mirrored the email sent by senior administration officials to the Tufts community on March 14.
“If a strike occurs, Tufts Dining Services has developed a contingency plan to ensure that all students on the Medford/Somerville and SMFA campuses have access to food and services,” she said.
She declined to comment on questions regarding whether Dining Services is stockpiling food, intending to close campus eateries or hiring scabs, all of which occurred during a dining workers’ strike at Harvard University in fall 2016, according to the Harvard Crimson.
Claire Chen, a senior who attended the meeting, said that she had been worried about what would happen to underclassmen who rely on the dining halls if a strike occurred, but was reassured by the announcements.
Towards the end of the meeting, Rogoff and Tsiang asked those present to fill out note cards expressing how they would support the dining workers in a strike.
On her card, Chen wrote, “I commit to joining a delegation and visiting admin offices and to support the workers through a strike.”
Jesse Ryan, a member of TDAC, said that the goal of the meeting was to bring students together, distribute information and ease any anxieties that students may have about the about the possible strike. Ryan, a sophomore, thought that the meeting largely succeeded in this regard.
Ryan asserted that most students are with the workers.
“We’re not getting a sense that there’s a large [amount] of confusion or a large amount of anxiety or stress about the strike in the Tufts community, we just wanted to make sure that all concerns anybody might have were addressed,” Ryan said.
Several dining workers attended the meeting, some still wearing their Dining Services uniforms.
Trisha O’Brien, a Dining Services attendant at Kindlevan, said that the meeting was “spectacular” and that she was amazed by the continued support from students.
O’Brien was resolute in her commitment to a strike.
“It’s going to be tough for all of us if it comes to that. We’re hoping that it doesn’t, but we’re ready,” she said. “We’ll do whatever we have to do, and whatever sacrifices we have to make … we’ll stand united. We’re going to win.”