Editorial: Students should join workers in action for a fair contract

Last spring, Tufts Dining workers voted to unionize with nearly 90 percent of ballots in favor of joining UNITE HERE Local 26. Negotiations for a contract started in August, but the school has not agreed to many of the terms set forth by the workers. Employees and activists have found that the university is unresponsive to or dismissive of demands for a fair workplace, according to Edwin Jain, a senior and member of Tufts Dining Action Coalition. In an interview with the Daily, Jain called on Tufts students to show their support for the dining workers by attending the Picket for a Fair Dining Contract at Carmichael Dining Hall on March 5. Solidarity between students and the workers will show the university that many stakeholders on campus support a fair contract for workers.

The key issues that must be resolved include job security, fair promotions and better healthcare. Jain explained that temporary workers (temps) suffer from insecure employment. Temps are workers who often work full-time hours, or close to it, and many have been working at Tufts Dining for years. Temps do not get paid the same amount as their full-time counterparts despite working the same amount of hours simply because of the contractural classification of their position. Temps have few benefits and no job security. Every semester, temp workers have to wait on the letter from Tufts Dining saying they’ve been rehired. Only after the union vote did the university agree to get rid of the temp position, Jain stated. Despite this win, conditions are far from fair. 

The dining workers are also demanding fair promotions. Jain told the Daily that there is no set system of yearly raises, meaning workers receive uneven compensation with no explanation. We believe this irregular system of pay is questionable and unethical. Jain said workers feel the current system of promotion is based in favoritism and racism. Workers hope to win an equitable system of raises and promotion that is formalized in writing to protect against potential bias.

Additionally, workers want to win fair healthcare. Some healthcare plans for workers cover less than 70 percent of costs. Given the price of healthcare in the country and Tufts’ resources as a private university, this number is unjustifiable. Maria Sheehan, a dining worker who has been at Tufts for a year and a half, said she and other workers struggle with healthcare costs because they only work during the school year, which is about 42 weeks. Sheehan’s insurance covers her family. This means money is tight, because she has to pay for health care all year, but she isn’t at her job or getting paid for two and a half months of the year. This is unacceptable. Workers should not have to worry about whether or not they can afford to go to the hospital or the doctor in times of need to support their family. Workers should have quality, affordable healthcare, and their premiums during the summer should not stretch finances.

Showing up at the picket is one important way that we can show our support for the workers who provide for us every day. The event is on Tuesday, March 5, at 4:30 p.m. at Carmichael Hall. We should come together to demand change for our dining workers, as they deserve to feel content and secure. United we bargain, divided we beg.