Op-ed: Tufts janitors to renegotiate contract this spring

Imagine 105 people cleaning up after more than 7,000 students and faculty, keeping our whole campus clean every day — with only 21 percent of them working 40 hours per week. It sounds impossible to me, but that is what Vice-President of Operations Linda Snyder expects from janitors at Tufts, as outlined in her April 2015 op-ed in the Tufts Daily. Adelaida Colon, who works on the Medford campus, stated in a Dec. 2015 interview with the Tufts Daily, “I can feel the frustration of my colleagues, and they are feeling pain. The excess work that DTZ has given each of my colleagues is not going to be possible. My colleagues are not going to be able to continue doing a good job because they have too much work.” Janitors on all three campuses echo these sentiments, stating overwork and not enough time to complete work assignments.

This daily reality comes after Tufts and C&W (formerly DTZ, a company Tufts subcontracts to hire cleaning services) made cuts to the janitorial staff last fall. There are now only 105 janitors who work on the Medford campus in total—across all three shifts and days of the week. The Tufts administration — guided by Linda Snyder —  argues that downsizing cleaning staff while assigning the remaining janitors more square footage to clean will somehow make the campus cleaner. In reality, the opposite is true — last year’s layoffs have wreaked havoc on the Tufts campus and the remaining janitors who clean it.

According to a document called “Outsourcing in Academia: The Tufts Custodians’ Struggle,” by Gary R. Goldstein, cuts to the cleaning services budget have resulted in a long pattern of deteriorating working conditions for janitors. This is particularly significant because the current contract for Tufts janitors will expire July 31. Janitors and their union, Service Employees International Union (SEIU) local 32BJ, will be renegotiating their contract this May with the outsourcing company C&W. The contract determines things that affect janitors’ lives directly, like sick days, vacation days, wages, benefits and work schedules.

Janitors are continuing to speak out about deteriorating conditions at rallies, in the media, to students and to the larger community. Calling for respect as members of the Tufts community, janitors ask the Tufts administration to stop cutting back on the cleaning services budget allotted to C&W. Paula Castillo, a janitor who has been working at Tufts for 19 years, states in a letter to President Monaco,  “I ask that through the decision-making process, you not just hear, but listen, to our voices … I ask that you listen to our voices when we call for fairer treatment, dignity, and respect.” Despite these efforts, the administrators have chosen not to change their practices.

These practices, which have caused drastic upheaval for all janitors, have been possible under the weak language of the janitors’ current contract. The language of the management rights clause gives more power to management than workers. According to the current contract, 90 percent of janitors at Tufts are supposed to be full-time workers by this July, but currently only 62 percent of janitors are full-time. The company chose to violate the agreed-upon ratio in order to carry out last year’s reorganization. The contract gave the company leeway to choose which changes to the workplace they prioritized through their actions. And these grievances could just be the beginning. Linda Snyder stated in meetings with students last year that the proposed reorganization plans for last year were but the first part of a much larger reorganization.

The Tufts administration denies the influence they hold over the janitors’ working conditions. In reality, the administration made the decision to outsource cleaning services and decided which company to use. C&W, the company that hires janitors, is sought out and paid by Tufts. Despite this, they use the tactic of outsourcing their cleaning services as a way to evade responsibility for any changes that affect janitors by putting responsibility on C&W. At a university-wide town hall meeting on April 5, President Monaco was asked if the administration would commit to meeting the demands of janitors, or if Tufts will continue prioritizing profits over janitors’ livelihoods. He responded, “The negotiations between SEIU and C&W…we have no role in those negotiations.” This reflects the tendency of the broader Tufts administration to deny their influence over janitors’ conditions.

While the administration says that they have no responsibility, we know they do. It has been demonstrated to us over the past three years, during the tenure of Linda Snyder, in how she has pushed through the reorganization of cleaning services with C&W to make decisions that prioritize corporate profit over campus cleanliness, and more importantly, members of our community. Last year Linda Snyder told us how the administration, as part of the “TEAM” plan, determined they needed to make budget cuts of $900,000 in their cleaning services contract. So they worked with DTZ to make this a reality. As they cut those $900,000, the operations budget nevertheless ran on a surplus of $1.3 million. They have the complete power to determine how cleaning services work at this school because they decide what they want out of their cleaning services contract.

This May, janitors have a clear opportunity to change and strengthen their existing contract to combat Tufts’ and the company’s continued exploitation.

A strong contract is an opportunity to protect janitors from an administration that has consistently proven unwilling to hear and act upon the voices and concerns of janitors.

It is clear to us that the janitors who work here are a part of the community at Tufts. They are the people who care for us students and make our lives easier. Despite being such a palpable part of the Tufts community, janitors are constantly being disrespected.  Janitors, joined by students like us, argue for better treatment and working conditions for the custodians and other campus workers.

When any member of our community is not treated with respect, the entire community must come together and work with them to change that. The fight last year included janitors and their families, students, faculty, staff, community organizations, fellow union members, alumni, parents, politicians, Medford and Somerville residents and government, faith based organizations, prospective students, parents, trustees and former employees. It angers us that despite this the administrators, under Linda Snyder’s lead, did not yield to the protests that came from so many parts of the community here at Tufts. As evidenced, while we have a community here on campus it is a highly asymmetrical one, with the people at the top making no attempts to listen to the people they claim to represent.

As students who benefit directly from the work janitors do every day, it is our responsibility to support them in these negotiations. And as Tufts Labor Coalition, we reaffirm our commitment to the advancement of workers’ dignity, respect and power across all Tufts campuses. Join us in supporting the janitors’ organizing efforts by turning out to our actions and getting involved.

 

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