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Tufts Labor Coalition joins Boston−area schools to fight for workers’ rights

Published: Monday, November 26, 2012

Updated: Monday, November 26, 2012 07:11

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Justin McCallum / The Tufts Daily

The Jumbo Janitor Alliance held a rally to protest the practices of Tufts’ current janitorial services contractor, UGL Unicco.


Tufts’ Jumbo Janitor Alliance (JJA) sparked a substantial movement on campus in campaigning for the rights of janitors on campus.

Last year, the group, in conjunction with Service Employees International Union (SEIU), organized a march that attracted dozens of students to protest outside Ballou Hall regarding the practices of Tufts’ current janitorial services contractor, UGL Unicco.

This year, the JJA has reemerged as the Tufts Labor Coalition (TLC), a student group campaigning for better workers’ rights. This year, the group looks to capitalize on the support it garnered in its efforts last year as JJA to increase activism on campus.

“The reason we got a lot of people is because half of those people were from [Tufts] Occupy [Boston],” TLC co−chair Libby Shrobe, a senior, said. “I do think that the Occupy movement has died down, but I think that [its] remnants are definitely still around on campus. A few of the people who started coming to our meetings were part of Occupy last year, and I just feel like there are more active groups on campus that focus on similar issues.”

Senior Lexi Sasanow, formerly co−chair of JJA and part of the Occupy movement, said this cross−group interaction is important.

“The solidarity network that the activist groups on campus are building is coming to fruition because a lot of the people who are here are people I know from the Anti−Authoritarian Collective” — a group centered on Tufts’ radical community — “or from Occupy,” Sasanow said.

Shrobe finds that the number of groups focused on social justice issues is something of a trend.

“I feel that the community at Tufts has become a little more receptive to listening in to issues around oppression and social justice, and there’s more of a dialogue around it in the past few years,” she said. Increased interaction among these activist groups is a goal of TLC this year, according to Shrobe.

“Obviously, for any organization on campus it’s good to have allies,” she said. “I think it’s really important to continue fostering those relationships, but we don’t have a strategic plan around it yet.”

According to TLC co−chair Josephine Herman, the group is still in flux as it works to transition its focus and support from last year into its new format.

“It feels like this is really a rebuilding year for TLC. The leadership has been trying to ... get people interested and passionate about labor issues and [to support] them in the directions that they want to go in,” Herman, a senior, said.

This push for increased involvement was in part what motivated the group’s shift to a more generalized focus on labor rights.

“Being a broader group allows us a lot more flexibility in terms of what we want to focus on and allows us to bring in members interested in different aspects of labor issues,” Herman said.

She added that, to her personally, this meant increasing their relationships with a broader variety of workers on campus.

“For me, the ... need to build connections with workers all over Tufts [was compelling] — not simply with the janitors, but also [with] dining and clerical, among others,” she said.

Despite the shift in focus, she said the group would continue to stay true to its roots in JJA.

“We have the strongest relationships with the custodial staff, and I know we want that relationship to remain strong as we move in this new direction,” Herman said.

One issue that is particularly important to TLC is the upcoming renewal of the janitors’ contract with UGL Unicco. Shrobe said she is looking for the group to raise awareness of the issue and to get the student body involved early, as negotiations will start in July when most students are off campus.

“It’s very strategic of Unicco and the administration that the contract negotiations are during the summer, because the student body isn’t there to be paying attention to it. It’s a huge asset to the union and the janitors that would be lost,” she said.

A key element to the group’s success lies in the close relationships its members form with campus workers. Sasanow stressed that students should feel more comfortable in interacting with these individuals and should work to build relationships with them.

“I think that there’s a fear of a language barrier that sometimes isn’t there. A lot of janitors speak English, and a lot of times, your pidgin Spanish is way better than you think,” she said.

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