Editorial: Anita Posadas’ mistreatment represents glaring failure of university

The testimony of Anita Posadas will shock many on this campus. The underlying message of her testimony, however, is that she is only an anecdote of a larger unpleasant narrative.

Over the last few years, the restructuring of janitorial services has reduced the number of staff cleaning individual buildings and led to overwork. In December 2015, former Tufts janitor Lorena Arita explained how, after layoffs, she and her colleagues had to clean four buildings in the 25 hours previously allotted to clean just Bendetson and West Halls. Corroborating this, Anita Posadas noted that as the number of staff decreased, the work increased; each individual had to take on additional responsibilities of “vacuuming, taking out trash and cleaning the stairs.” Extra workloads are particularly burdensome, as many workers commute from long distances and have to support other family members. As a result, some workers in the past have been forced to resign and others, like Anita Posadas, have been physically harmed, either as a result of malevolent management or overwork.

It is true that contractual improvements have been made, through decade-long student protests and successive negotiations. Under the terms of the October 2016 negotiations with Cushman & Wakefield (C&W) Services, janitors no longer have to pay a $100 monthly premium and benefit from lower health care costs, and they will be given a $1.80 hourly raise by 2020. Even with these changes, however, it is questionable that janitors have a better working environment today than those before them. Nicole Joseph of the Tufts Labor Coalition (TLC) aptly pointed out that the largest loophole in last year’s negotiation was its failure to address fair workloads.

Another important issue highlighted by Posadas is the abuse by administrative staff at C&W Services. If these allegations are true — that she was forced to clean a toilet with her bare hands, that she was pushed resulting in her hospitalization and that she failed to receive workers’ compensation for a debilitating injury that rendered her unable to work — the university must take immediate action. 

It has been argued that Tufts is not responsible for the actions of C&W Services because C&W is a contractor independent from the university. Yet, as a large customer, Tufts no doubt has significant influence in the contract between the two parties. 

Complaints are widespread. Other facilities workers hired directly by Tufts have voiced complaints that the university preferred replacing vacancies with administrative positions over promotion and hiring. Over the past decade, the university has restructured its budget, justifying such policy largely on two grounds: to reduce student tuition and to redirect resources for better use. Specifically, in 2015, Executive Vice President Patrica Campbell affirmed these reasons in an op-ed estimating that “custodial services reorganization” would save $900,000 annually. For reference, University President Anthony Monaco makes close to that amount every year.

However, if the Tufts administration’s goal was to counter the tuition hike to achieve greater affordability, it would be much more reasonable to deprioritize projects such as renovating a basketball court. Monaco himself explained that $40 million of the $355 million 2015 expenditures on the School of Arts and Sciences and the School of Engineering was invested in “institutional support,” indicating high administrative costs. The point is that the school should simply be willing to restructure its administrative positions, as it had attempted to do through Tufts Effectiveness in Administrative Management (TEAM) in 2012, rather than trying to cut costs from low-income workers struggling to support their families.

Beyond campus grounds, Tufts’ unfair treatment of janitors reflects negatively on the Tufts-neighborhood relationship. The Medford City Council made this clear in 2015, when it unanimously urged Tufts to reconsider layoffs, noting that the plans were “an issue under council purview that’s affecting Medford residents.”

Yet, the harmful consequences of such short-sighted decisions are slowly taking root on campus. Beyond overflowing trash cans and dirty bathrooms, Tufts’ spirit of community and trust is undermined by the inhumane treatment of its workers. Former Mayor Michael Capuano, who is currently a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, foresaw this when he wrote to then-University President John DiBiaggio about the impact of custodial contract changes in 1997, stressing that custodial workers “deserve more than a choice between a last minute termination or a serious reduction in their lifestyles.”

The Tufts family includes not only janitors but also non-tenured academic professionals, who have long provided students with high-quality classes while living in insecurity. It includes dining hall employees, who have spent nights at dining halls during blizzards to provide students with food only to face similar administrative bullying today.

The university administration should pressure C&W Services to provide reparation for the harms inflicted to Posadas as well as for overdue compensation. It should take steps to increase transparency of its budget expenditures and work to improve welfare conditions for all of its employees. These constant complaints by employees suggest a culture that devalues labor and the people who make the university livable.

Tufts simply shouldn’t be an institution that reflects dark parts of society. Instead, it should seek to bring light and better the conditions of those who work for it: “Pax et Lux.”