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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Monday, May 27, 2024

Tufts Dining Action Coalition holds worker speakout event ahead of Tuesday’s union election

Students listen to Anthony Perry's experiences working at Dewick during the Tufts Dining Workers Speak Out event in the Interfaith Center on Apr. 19.

Approximately 150 students, faculty and staff gathered in the Interfaith Center at 7:30 last night to hear Tufts Dining workers talk about their experiences and the need for unionization. The event, which was hosted by Tufts Dining Action Coalition (TDAC), was held ahead of next Tuesday’s union election, where the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) will facilitate a vote among dining workers to determine whether they will unionize with New England-area hospitality union UNITE HERE Local 26.

This follows a student rally on April 4 to support unionization, when a cohort of workers and union representatives presented Executive Vice President Patricia Campbell and Senior Vice President and General Counsel Mary Jeka with a petition indicating majority support for unionization among the workers.

Students sat on the floor and stood along the walls in the fully packed room to hear the workers speak, and those who could not find space were rerouted to a spillover room, where they watched the event on a projector via live-stream. The event was catered by The Rez, which served free coffee and muffins to attendees.

Junior Julia Yun and senior Xavier Suarez — both members of TDAC — gave opening remarks, highlighting the importance of continued student support for dining workers as the union election draws closer, especially in the face of what students and workers claimed was ongoing intimidation by management.

“We’re here to show them that we see Tufts’ injustice, and we are going to stand together,” Suarez said.

Four workers spoke over the course of the 45-minute event, two of whom came while on break from work.

The first was Tsering Ngodup, a temp worker in Dewick-MacPhie Dining Center. Ngodup, a Tibetan refugee who grew up in India and is now a naturalized U.S. citizen, said that he’s been employed at Tufts Dining for the past six years. He said his salary has remained stagnant throughout that time, without benefits or security, and emphasized that a union is crucial in order to allow workers to advocate for their needs and the needs of their families.

“As a temp worker, we have no benefits, nothing,” he said, noting many other Boston-area universities have dining workers unions. "But we are going to make this happen. We are going to make history, right?”

Ngodup said that while forming a union might seem like a daunting task, he believes it can be done.

“If they can put a man on the moon, if we can climb the highest mountain, go to the depths of the ocean, why can’t we have a union at Tufts?” he asked the crowd.

Alba Schiavone, an attendant at Carmichael Dining Center, then thanked students for their support before she recounted a story of mistreatment by management. She said a sous chef had forced her to walk back and forth retrieving a bowl of mashed potatoes that he would move each time.

“He said that I needed the workout,” Schiavone recalled. “[Management] are so mean to us … every morning I wait in the car at least 10 minutes to get myself to go in [to work].”

Trish O’Brien, who has worked in Tufts Dining for 29 years and currently works in Kindlevan Cafe, began her portion by thanking those students who participated in the rally on April 4.

“You showed us the love you had for us. We were strong before because we knew we wanted these changes, but when you showed up for us, I could see it around me, our chests swelled,” she said. “We are the unseen and unheard, but now we are going to be seen and heard.”

O’Brien said that there has been ongoing intimidation from management, emphasizing the threats temp workers receive from managers. She said the dining workers are aspiring to achieve an overwhelming majority vote in favor of unionization on Tuesday.

“We’re not gonna win by 60 percent, not by 70 percent, not by 80 percent. We want 90 percent of the vote,” she said.

The Daily reached out to Executive Director of Public Relations Patrick Collins about how managers accused of intimidation, mistreatment or abuse would be reprimanded and whether there has been any recent reports or complaints. Collins did not respond at time of publication.

The last worker to speak was Anthony Perry, who has worked at Dewick for the past 13 years.

“I’ve always spoken up, so I always had a target on my back,” he said. “It’s good to have your support … To have this happen now, it’s a godsend.”

Perry said that after being falsely accused of uttering a racial slur, he was prevented from working for Tufts Dining over the summer. He said that after going through multiple channels to contest the claim, at the last minute he was still denied work because of a shoe attire violation. Perry said he had not been wearing non-uniform shoes to be rebellious, but rather because his feet hurt from plantar fasciitis, a painful condition.

“They didn’t care. You know what they told me? 'You’ll find something,'” he said. “They didn’t care about my family. I was the only one working at the time. My wife was out of work, and my only daughter was still in college. So, I was scared.”

But Perry remained hopeful for the future.

“We’re going to win this [election], and it’s through you guys that we’re going to win it,” he said to the crowd of students.

Daniela Sanchez, a sophomore who attended the event, spoke about why she felt showing up to the event was important.

“Not only do [the dining workers] do so much for us, but also as students who go to a university with a reputation of being so into social justice and equality," she said. "I think it’s really important to put our money where our mouth is."

Ander Pierce, a senior who attended, said his own family’s experiences were similar to the dining workers’, since his father was falsely accused of stealing after a decade of working for FedEx Kinko's and was forced to resign without workers’ compensation.

“Just on a personal scale I know how much of a difference having a union and having people who support and care about you makes,” he said. “I think the workers here should have a union, because honestly it should have happened 10 years ago.”

The university has yet to recognize the dining workers’ union. According to UNITE HERE representative Mike Kramer, the university has made it clear that they will not declare themselves a neutral party in the unionization process.

When asked if the university would declare itself a neutral party in union negotiations, Collins referred to a statement given on April 4. 

“We respect the rights of employees to seek an election to decide for themselves whether unionization is in their best interests. We think it’s fair that all workers have the opportunity to cast a vote regardless of their position on the question, and we will respect the election’s outcome,” the statement reads.

Kramer said that until Tufts recognizes the workers’ desire to unionize, they will continue to voice their support for unionization and the working conditions they desire.

“The workers have shown already that an overwhelming majority want change, and they want a union," he told the Daily. "The administration should have recognized that already."