The university and the labor union which represents its dining workers signed an agreement on March 27 to keep Tufts Dining’s more than 100 workers paid through May 9.
No more than 20% of dining workers are working on any given day at Dewick-Macphie Dining Center and the Commons Marketplace, the two Tufts Dining establishments which remain open, but all employees are being paid in full regardless of whether they work or not, according to Patrick Collins, Tufts’ executive director of media relations.
UNITE HERE Local 26, which represents the workers, confirmed this, according to Tricia O’Brien, a retail division union shop steward who works as a service attendant in Mugar Café.
University President Anthony Monaco’s March 10 email announcing the closure of campus due to the escalating coronavirus pandemic immediately raised concerns for dining workers as it would drastically reduce the need for staff.
Union shop stewards began talks with the university that week, meeting with Tufts Dining leadership in Dowling Hall on March 12 and again over a conference call later that week, according to O’Brien.
The university sent a draft agreement to the union on March 16 which the union rejected due to differences over temporary workers and other issues, O’Brien said.
Negotiations between David Ossam, Tufts’ newly hired director of labor relations, and Local 26 representatives continued for the next two weeks before the agreement was signed.
O’Brien criticized what she characterized as a lack of communication from the university in the days following the announcement of the closure, saying the university kept dining workers “in the dark.”
“I don’t know how many times I had to send out emails for them to actually get back to us,” she said.
However, O’Brien said she was pleased that the university agreed to pay the dining workers until May 9.
Tufts Labor Coalition heralded the agreement the day before it was signed in a statement on its Facebook page.
“This is a huge win for our community and it would not have been possible [without] the support of students and workers alike,” the group wrote.
A March 12 post on the group’s Facebook page calling on Tufts to guarantee wages garnered more than 700 commented signatures from students and alumni.
Local 26 also pointed to the university as an example of leadership in a Facebook post calling on other area universities to do the same.
The union and the university are currently working on a new agreement which will determine workers’ status after May 8.
“We have a list of concerns that need to be addressed. They range from personal health, health care, job security, wage continuation etc,” O’Brien wrote in an electronic message last week.
Tufts has taken a serious financial hit from the coronavirus pandemic and is facing about $15 million in costs and lost revenue associated with the pandemic. Administrators estimate that these costs could rise as high as $50 million in the next fiscal year which starts in June.
Some workers are worried that they could be furloughed as a cost saving measure.
Idah Duche normally works swiping ID cards in Hodgdon Food-on-the-Run, but for the past month has been working about every other week at Dewick.
Duche has a lot more time at home than she had before the campus closure, but she says it is hard to enjoy when she is worrying about whether she will lose her job come May 9.
“It’s really going to be frustrating, because I am a mother of four and living without any paycheck is going to be something which is very difficult,” she said. “I’m kind of drained … just thinking ahead [about] what is going to happen.”
Duche hopes the university and the union will come to a new agreement as soon as possible, so she can begin looking for another job if she is laid off.
One thing that has helped, Duche said, is that Local 26 pledged that its health plan will continue to cover her and many of her colleagues at Tufts even if the university lets them go in the next six months.
Despite her worries about the summer, Duche thanked the university for paying workers in full until May. She also noted that Tufts is taking workers’ safety seriously by providing masks, gloves and copious disinfectant.
Duche hopes that students will be back on campus soon, and said that the days she is still working keep her mind off all the uncertainties of the pandemic.
“If I go to work honestly it’s okay, because for me it’s kind of some form of relief that I am just doing good for the Tufts community,” she said.