Amid the COVID-19 outbreak, wage, health and other uncertainties plague our Tufts and global communities; in consequence, supporting all community members proves more vital than ever. As a result of most universities’ decisions to move to distance learning for the remainder of the semester, an increasing number of workers on college campuses face financial uncertainty and instability.
Commendably, Tufts made an essential decision to continue to pay its dining staff through the end of the semester: As the backbone of university communities, dining workers work tirelessly to serve students and staff on university campuses.
This decision came from the mobilization of our community, consisting of efforts of workers and their unions as well as pressure from students. UNITE HERE Local 26, a union that supports workers in the hospitality industries of Massachusetts and Rhode Island, played a key role in these developments as they worked to ensure that Tufts’ dining workers will receive full pay and benefits. Tufts Labor Coalition (TLC) has also generated instrumental changes on Tufts campus, affirming student solidarity with workers and communicating demands to Tufts administration through a petition that circulated for almost two weeks before garnering nearly 750 signatures. The workers’ proposal was for Tufts to fully pay dining staff through April 30 and this petition proved very effective; after these efforts, the administration announced its commitment to give workers the requested wages and benefits.
Similarly, petitions have aided neighboring academic institutions like Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in the preservation of worker contracts through the end of the semester. However, other schools in the Boston area, such as Northeastern University and Brandeis University, have yet to follow this admirable trend, despite a widespread movement for worker support. This action proves imperative to preserving equity and wellness through this crisis; we call on our peer institutions to follow the example set by Tufts in prioritizing its invaluable staff through the COVID-19 pandemic.
Since they cannot work from home, dining hall workers belong to one of the most drastically impacted sectors of the COVID-19 economic crisis; without consistent wages, they are left without the proper means to support themselves and their families. In contrast, those with continued wages do not face such hardship: as Samuel Huertas, a MIT business school catering assistant, told the Boston Globe, he does not have to worry about paying his rent or bills. Thus, in a time of such pervasive uncertainty, it is evermore important that universities value the financial security of all dining workers, allowing them equal right to prioritize the financial and physical wellbeing of themselves and their families during this trying time.
This fight for dining workers’ rights must extend beyond Tufts’ campus to all other outstanding universities in the Boston area and throughout the country. As Tufts fulfills its duty as an institution, others must as well. However, it is important that we do not denormalize our university’s action but rather emphasize its vitality to following through on moral duty. By not supporting their workers, Tufts’ peer institutions fail to act in line with their obligations to their communities, an act not only irresponsible but immoral as well.
“It would have been incredibly unethical to not make this commitment,” sophomore TLC organizer Gabe Reyes said.
In this form, our peer universities must follow Tufts in exercising this moral responsibility and acting in line with values of empathy, equality and respect. Nevertheless, both our university and others can go further to follow through on such commitment through taking additional steps to support dining, janitorial and facilities workers; the administration should assist workers under additional stress and cover costs where needed. By doing so, universities act in line with the already beneficial steps taken by Tufts, Harvard and MIT — and more importantly, fully exercise their autonomy and privilege as institutions to incite positive changes, influence community talk and inspire the global community as a whole.