Justice for janitors: demand an end to contract violations and mistreatment

The Tufts’ janitorial staff is in a precarious, and often confusing, position. I would like to clear up the situation, in hopes of paving the way for further student and administrative action on behalf of the Tufts janitors.

Because the janitors are not directly employed by Tufts University, but through a subcontractor, DTZ/Unicco, the daily realities of their working conditions are at the mercy of this contractor. They are not afforded the same standing as direct Tufts employees. Fortunately, as members of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 32BJ, as they explained to us, Tufts janitors have some protections through a hard-fought contract, such as a required level of full-time employment across the staff, specific payment methods and more. Unfortunately, DTZ has continuously violated this contract since they took over custodial operations at the beginning of 2013.

In our experience, when such concerns have been brought to the attention of President Anthony Monaco, Executive Vice President Patricia Campbell and Vice President of Operations Linda Snyder, they have expressed sympathy for the janitors’ situation. However, this sympathy has not taken form as action. As indirect employers, Tufts administrators have repeatedly ignored their responsibilities in ensuring that their hired contractors treat workers on Tufts campuses well, or even abide by their legal contracts. Members of Tufts Labor Coalition believe otherwise. We believe that it is the responsibility of the Tufts administration to ensure that workers on this campus are treated fairly, regardless of who directly employs them. Ultimately, it is Tufts’ money that reaches — or fails to reach — the janitors. As students we also have a responsibility to demand that our tuition money goes towards supporting workers who make our time here possible, rather than lining the pockets of the corporate middle man.

Three pressing issues are currently at stake for the janitors, two of which are direct contract violations.

First, as reported to us by the janitors themselves, fewer janitors are currently classified as full-time workers than their contract calls for. Right now, only 58 percent of janitors are full-time employees, while the contract binds DTZ to employ 75 percent of the janitors full-time and to aspire to employ 90 percent full-time. It is our understanding from conversations with the janitors that DTZ has been manipulating the janitors’ schedules in order to refrain from classifying more as full-time. For example, they will work full-time hours for two weeks, then have their hours cut for one week, so as to never accrue the scheduling necessary to be classified as full-time. Similarly, when full-time janitors leave Tufts, DTZ does not always fill those positions, instead opting to split that workload between several part-time janitors. Full-time classification is vital to workers’ livelihood because it affords job security and important benefits such as health insurance.

Second, the janitorial staff explained to us that DTZ has not been following the specific payment methods as prescribed in the contract. The most recent problem that has come to light is the following: The contract states that janitors should be paid with individual weekly checks during their paid vacation time, rather than one composite check for the entirety of their vacation. While this seems like a minor difference, it was a hard-fought specification in their contract. Getting paid for vacation time with a larger composite check ends up meaning that the janitors have more of their total pay taken out as taxes. As we understand, the DTZ manager on Tufts’ campus acted swiftly to try to correct this, but his superiors at corporate DTZ would not comply. This is indicative of problems that have occurred repeatedly with DTZ corporate and payment headquarters in the past. It has been extremely difficult, if not impossible, for janitors to obtain pay accidentally taken out of their paychecks. These are claims that should be routine and easily fixed.

Third, the janitors told that us over the past several years they have acquired larger and larger workloads. They have been forced to take on responsibility for cleaning more space and buildings, often in less time and with fewer co-workers. Weekend hours were cut drastically, meaning that cleaning up on Monday mornings is an even more arduous task. Often, janitors are responsible for three, four or five buildings every day. DTZ does not maintain staff available to cover the ground of janitors who take a sick day, so entire buildings are routinely added to a janitor’s daily load. This results in increased work strain on the janitors. The janitors explained that they are instructed implicitly and explicitly that they must sacrifice quality in order to clean the buildings they are assigned. Tufts janitors take pride in their work, and asking them to compromise in this way devalues what they do. Furthermore, our living conditions suffer. When students notice that their dorms and academic buildings are dirtier than they should be, they often choose not to complain because they worry it will reflect poorly on the janitors. In fact, the opposite is true. Until the student body makes a fuss about these trends, DTZ will continue to cut corners. It is quite likely that DTZ is employing fewer janitors for fewer hours than necessary in order to cut their costs, keeping more of the overhead from the fixed amount that their contract with Tufts provides.12

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