A year in the making: Tufts Dining workers unanimously ratify 1st contract

Tufts Dining workers vote for the ratification of the contract in the New Life Baptist Church on April 3. (Dogacan Colak / The Tufts Daily)

Almost a year since their vote to unionize, Tufts Dining workers voted unanimously yesterday to ratify the tentative agreement negotiated by their union, UNITE HERE Local 26, and the university administration, according to Mike Kramer, Local 26’s lead negotiator.

Kramer said that the union was very pleased with the agreement, which will now serve as the contract between the workers and the university over the next four years.

Kramer, who led contract negotiations at Harvard University and Northeastern University before Tufts, situated today’s ratification within the context of a broad labor movement by food services employees which he said began with the 2016 Harvard University Dining Services strike.

“A movement of dining workers across the Boston area have raised standards dramatically across the industry and have said that these jobs aren’t going to be poverty jobs; they’re going to be jobs that people can survive on in a very expensive city,” he said. “[The Tufts contract] continues that and cements it as the standard in the food service industry in higher education.”

Kramer explained that the contract will bring conditions in line with what has been achieved at other area universities, which had been the union’s goal since the beginning of negotiations in August of last year.

He said that success at Tufts would likely have ripple effects at other universities.

“When a group of workers stands up and declares that they need change and wins, the group of workers just a little ways down the street pays attention to that and follows that example,” he said.

Patrick Collins, Tufts’ executive director of public relations, said in an email to the Daily that the university administration was pleased that the tentative agreement had been ratified.

There was give and take on both sides of these negotiations, and we consider the contract fair and equitable,” Collins said. “We’re happy with the outcome and we look forward to implementing the contract in collaboration with the union as we move ahead.”

He went on to reaffirm the university’s appreciation for the dining workers.

As dining workers trickled into New Life Baptist Church on Boston Avenue to cast their votes yesterday afternoon, Lucson Aime, a first cook at the Dewick-MacPhie Dining Center and a member of Local 26’s bargaining team, was there to assist.

He said that he had cast his vote in favor of the “life-changing” agreement because it met the demands workers had made on issues like wages and healthcare.

Aime, who has been part of the campaign since its inception last year, reflected that it had been “quite a journey” for him. He recounted coming home late from long days split between work, negotiations and organizing to find his family already asleep, but he said it was worth it.

“[The campaign] taught us how to be leaders, how to bring people close to you, how to talk to people and understand everybody else’s point of view, everybody else’s struggle,” he said.

The campaign had the secondary effect of bringing the dining workers together, Aime said; that change, according to Aime, began at the first union meeting and has only deepened since.

“I remember when we first got started … people were sharing what they were dealing with inside work [and] outside work, life in general. People were emotional about those things,” he said. “Right after we won that contract, the room was also very emotional [like at the first meeting]. All those things way back, all those things we went through, it was very memorable.”

Kramer shared Aime’s sentiments, saying that the solidarity and community created through the long campaign would serve to strengthen the union at Tufts in the years to come.

Student activists from Tufts Dining Action Coalition (TDAC) also met last night to debrief from the campaign with which they have been deeply involved over the past months, according to Luca Rogoff, a TDAC member who attended.

Rogoff, a first-year, said that TDAC considers its goals were accomplished with the ratification of the agreement but that the coalition will be present to support dining workers in the case of problems with implementation and for the eventual renegotiation in four years.

Like Aime, Rogoff said that the campaign brought the campus together in support of the workers across social lines, highlighting how the cause had united groups from across the political spectrum.

He also said that workers and students are now closer than they had been at the beginning of the campaign.

TDAC members, despite the resolution of this campaign, intend to apply the lessons they’ve learned to other causes around campus.

“I myself, and a lot of other people included, feel like we have really gotten a taste of how to organize well, how to bring justice to an issue we care about, how to connect with people on campus, and we don’t want to let all of the incredible things, the hard things, the lessons that we’ve learned from this campaign, go to waste and just sit there,” Rogoff said.


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