There are few aside from friends and family who devote the entirety of their time to our well-being and growth. Often, we take for granted the voluntary care of our parents and friends, yet this is the support that sustains us. Likewise, at Tufts, we are surrounded by an “invisible family”: custodial workers who cleanse the remnants of our Friday nights from sinks and toilets, facility workers who plow through impossible amounts of snow to give us a road to walk on, and faculty and staff, who formally direct us in our pursuit of knowledge and personal happiness. This family tree is incomplete without the dining hall workers, who toil from dawn to dusk at their respective positions, nourishing us so that we can accomplish everything we want to throughout the day. Thus, as dining hall workers fight to unionize, we must support them in the same way they take care of us everyday.
The unionization debate should be simple. According to Sections 7 and 8 of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), workers are guaranteed the right to create or join a labor union. The dining hall workers are morally justified to oppose the hostile work environment created by management, which is alleged to have promoted favoritism, bullying and unfair treatment. Unionization will allow workers to be able to collectively bargain for better working terms and negotiations. As a result, this would reduce miscommunication and provide job security for workers like Linda Furgala, a former worker who was abruptly fired for “unclear reasons” then reinstated two days later. Furgala left her position six months later as the “toxic work environment … began to affect her health.” As Edwin Jain, student dining employee and organizer, put it simply, “They want a better workplace and a better life for them and their families.”
Opponents may voice concerns about higher prices for consumers (i.e. students) and that further tuition hikes would disproportionately harm low-income students. Yet it is a mistake to think Tufts students would choose to be thrifty in the face of workplace injustice. When the university considers its budget priorities, supporting these workers — the backbone of our university — should be at the top of the list. Time and time again, students have marched in support for adjunct professors and custodial workers, indicating that students see social justice as an integral part of student welfare.
During Monday’s walkout, hundreds of Tufts students showed their unwavering support for dining hall workers. Now it is the university’s turn to recognize them. The administration would be following the precedent of neighboring universities like Harvard, whose dining hall workers went on strike until a five-year contract was agreed upon. Hopefully, workers do not have to resort to such drastic measures for administrators to agree to such basic demands.
We may sometimes forget the demanding nature of dining hall work. According to the job description for a dining service attendant, one “must have tolerance for long shifts standing, walking, lifting, and performing various other repetitive physical tasks.” Kat Barry walked to work for her 5:30 am shift in the midst of a snowstorm, and other dining hall workers routinely stay overnight to ensure we are fed during snow days. We should not only fight for them because they work hard for us but because these are human beings. We must thank women like Anna Rico, a head cafeteria worker, who hid in caves to escape the darkest hours of World War II, moved to Medford to join her husband, a mason, according to a 2012 Daily article. We must thank men like Carlton Sewell, a second cook and stir fry specialist, who immigrated from Jamaica, worked as a chef on Newbury Street and spent his many years in Carmichael trying to “make the place more lively.”
Dining hall workers are our unsung heroes, the hands that feed us. They deserve more than a token of the university’s gratitude, and they certainly deserve the administration’s formal recognition as a union.