Tufts Labor Coalition holds summer rally, demands pay for dining workers

Rally participants march through campus. Courtesy Anthony Davis-Pait

Tufts Labor Coalition held a rally in front of Dewick-MacPhie Dining Center in support of Tufts Dining workers ineligible for both summer work at Tufts and unemployment benefits from the state of Massachusetts on Friday, July 30. The rally was attended by workers, students, faculty, elected officials, political candidates and community members.

The Daily previously reported that over 130 dining workers, out of a total of 180, did not receive summer assignments at Tufts. Among them, 70 workers had filed for unemployment benefits at some point, according to Patrick Collins, executive director of media relations.

Patti Klos, director of dining and business services, and David Ossam, labor relations manager, maintained that summer work is contingent, and that Massachusetts denied the workers’ unemployment claims because they were offered “reasonable assurance” of employment in the upcoming term.

Nevertheless, several dining workers have raised skepticism about how the administration interprets their contracts, stressing that if part-time and full-time employees are not working over the summer, they should be seen as laid off, and thus eligible for unemployment benefits.

The Daily also reported that last summer, Tufts paid its dining workers from March, when the campus shut down due to COVID-19, through May 9, after negotiations took place between Tufts and UNITE HERE Local 26 — the union that represents many dining workers on campus. Subsequently, dining workers’ unemployment claims had been successful. According to Ossam, this was due to the Massachusetts Department of Unemployment Assistance easing its criteria for unemployment benefits during the pandemic.

Elected officials and candidates who took part in the rally included Katjana Ballantyne, Ward 7 city councilor and Somerville mayoral candidate; Zac Bears, Medford city councilor; Mary Cassesso, Somerville mayoral candidate; Jesse Clingan, Somerville Ward 4 city councilor; Kit Collins (LA’15), candidate for Medford City Council; and Judy Pineda Neufeld (LA’05), candidate for Somerville City Council Ward 7.

In his opening speech for the rally, David Boulet-Gercourt, an organizer with TLC, demanded that Tufts pay its dining workers throughout the summer, regardless of their employment status.

“Whether or not it’s true that their employment status makes them ineligible for unemployment benefits, it’s just not acceptable that Tufts workers are left without any form of income for the entire summer,” Boulet-Gercourt, a junior, said. “So we’re here today to demand that Tufts University pay those workers who are not employed through the entirety of summer 2021.”

Tricia O’Brien, a shop steward at UNITE HERE Local 26 and service attendant who has worked at Tufts for 32 years, spoke next. Referring to Article 30, a clause in the union’s collective bargaining agreement that prompts the university to find alternative work for all bargaining members who fail to secure a position in the summer months, O’Brien questioned why Tufts has provided limited support for its workers in need.

“[Tufts] was supposed to find us work in the summertime if they don’t have jobs for everyone,” O’Brien said. “They did nothing — they didn’t care about making sure that people have pay, they didn’t care if people have family and children … In the dining services, husbands and wives [who] work together in different halls … supporting a family and children, are receiving nothing for three months, while [administrators] sit in their comfy little offices that are air-conditioned and everything.”

Christine Tringale, a union shop steward who has worked at Tufts for 10 years, reiterated the union’s demands.

“Where is the memorandum of understanding that we did last year? They paid continuous wages from March 2020 [through the beginning of May] … so now it [should be] the same thing,” Tringale said. “We need to be paid, we’re demanding pay, there’s no reason they couldn’t sit down and tell us there’s another alternative. There’s no alternative work based on Article 30. Now what do we do? … Summer’s almost over; people haven’t had income.”

Marianne Walles, an activist with Somerville Stands Together and Our Revolution Somerville and Medford; Tina Lavanga, who has worked at Tufts for 14 years; and Amma Agyei, Tufts Community Union Senate president, also spoke at the rally, denouncing Tufts’ actions and demanding that dining workers be compensated properly.

In an interview with the Daily, Walles, who has been active in local communities’ interactions with Tufts, emphasized that paying its employees well is essential if Tufts wants to have a positive impact locally.

“When [my organizations] heard about the dining hall workers, we’ve been with them from their first fight to be unionized,” Walles said. “So it’s just unfair — they were here during the pandemic, and we think that they should be getting paid. Be a good neighbor … you tell us all the time you’re a good neighbor. We want you to be a good neighbor, and treat your employees well and pay them.”

Agyei, a senior, applauded TLC’s efforts to bring this issue into the spotlight and said that TCU Senate is putting together a call for action.

“There are so many calls being made about [the dining workers’ situation] on Instagram and Facebook, emails being sent, but we’re not seeing any action or change, and I feel like Tufts definitely recognizes rallies and protests,” Agyei said in an interview with the Daily. “TCU Senate is working on a statement. We’re waiting for different senators to sign on because it’s such an important issue that everybody needs to sign on.”

Collins maintains that dining workers are academic-year employees and treated fairly, and that no layoffs occurred.

“The university’s academic year employees … are paid during that time frame for the duties they perform,” Collins wrote in an email to the Daily. “During the summer, they are on leave. Dining employees are academic-year employees, a status requested by their union and affirmed in a binding ruling by an arbitrator. There were no layoffs in dining this year, and dining staff in the union received their scheduled pay increase pursuant to their contract. The University pays its staff fairly and well, and receipt of compensation is premised on employees performing their duties.”

The rally marched from Dewick-MacPhie Dining Center to Lewis, Tilton and Bush Halls, before going uphill to protest in front of Gifford House, University President Anthony Monaco’s residence, and Ballou Hall, the main administration building.


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