Editorial: Supporting janitors’ contract negotiations now, in the future

Following weeks of unresolved negotiations and the prospect of a strike, the bargaining committee of the 32BJ Service Employees International Union (SEIU) finally reached a contract agreement with Cushman & Wakefield (C&W) Services over Tufts janitors’ contracts. While details of the new contracts are still to be released, the settlement of a fair agreement is a major victory for Tufts janitors and the rest of the university community.

In the weeks leading up to the negotiation, the union requested for the janitors an increase in full-time positions, better benefits, decreased workloads, improved healthcare coverage and more respect from employers. Janitors and leaders of 32BJ SEIU have both lamented that under the previous contract, workers were forced to manage multiple jobs just to pay the bills and support their families — an issue they believe will be remedied with a better contract and a push for more full-time work. Under the former contract, Tufts janitors received an average hourly wage of $19.35 and only 60 percent of Tufts janitors worked full-time. 

While students may not feel directly impacted since a strike was avoided, we should nonetheless be cognizant and supportive of this victory for a group of valuable individuals in our community. Tufts janitors are an indispensable part of our university. They are the ones who keep our campus clean and healthy, who help on-campus events run according to plan, and whose smiling faces we see on our dreaded morning walks to 8:30 a.m. classes. Tufts janitors are the backbone of so much we take for granted at this university, ensuring that all runs smoothly behind the scenes. All too often, however, we may forget to say thank you to these individuals or fail to recognize the invaluable role they play. We may also forget that after a long day of cleaning up our messes, many of these people return home to families in need of their support.

Thus, it is of utmost importance that students continue to support the workers’ efforts to become more valued — as both employees and community members ­— as a testament to our recognition and appreciation for all they have contributed to our community.

While a new contract may appear to be a battle fought and won, we should continue to be mindful of the janitors’ treatment, workload and working conditions on this campus. Because the university has made clear that it does not play a role in fulfilling the terms and conditions of C&W-employed janitors, students should recognize that we play a vital role in supporting this underrepresented group.

Furthermore, we should be aware that even though a new contract may seem to keep janitors’ concerns at bay, this is by no means a definitive victory for these workers. Tufts janitors have fought long and hard to gain fairer wages, hours, benefits and conditions, and it is likely that the effort will continue in the future. C&W has been known to violate the contracts of Tufts janitors in the past. Just last spring, in spite of contracts stipulating that 90 percent of janitors would be full time by the summer, only sixty-two percent were full time in late April. C&W works to ensure that the contract they reach with SEIU is as favorable to C&W as possible, and the less leverage Tufts janitors have, the worse the contract will be for Tufts workers. If we continue to support the janitors’ right to a fair contract — including their right to strike — this year and in the years to follow, C&W will be more likely to negotiate fairly.

Above all, a new contract is a great success for Tufts janitors and our university as a whole. As a community, we should continue to strive for fair treatment, employment and respect for all staff members of this university — no matter what role they play. Going forward, the student body should take responsibility for supporting and valuing the efforts of all individuals that make Tufts a better place — janitors included.