Skip to Content, Navigation, or Footer.
The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Thursday, June 13, 2024

Dining workers, students lead demonstrations to address harassment claims

Students gather with Dining Services workers outside Hodgdon Food-on-the-Run on Nov. 2 to raise awareness for dining worker Christine Tringale's claims of harassment against a dining manager.

Dining workers and student activists protested treatment of Tufts Dining Services employees in a series of demonstrations last week centered around claims that Christine Tringale, a night cook supervisor at Hodgdon Food-on-the-Run, experienced verbal harassment and retaliation for comments she made in an Oct. 29 article in the Tufts Observer. In the article, which also featured quotes from other dining workers, Tringale alleged that she had experienced sexual harassment, scheduling difficulties and increased hostility at work during her eight years in Dining Services.

On Friday, a delegation made up of Dining Services workers and students from the Tufts Dining Action Coalition (TDAC) approached Hodgdon Food-on-the-Run to confront a manager over Tringale's allegations of harassment and retaliation.

This came directly after a survivor speakout event the same day co-hosted by TDAC and Action for Sexual Assault Prevention (ASAP), at which Dining Services workers, along with Tufts students and alumni, shared experiences of harassment, assault and retaliation in the workplace and elsewhere.

ASAP Event Coordinator Paula Gil-Ordoñez Gomez noted that the event marked a new trajectory for the organization, which she said has worked mostly on student issues in the past.

“I think it’s really important to acknowledge that it’s not only students who deserve a safe living environment,” Gomez, a sophomore, said. “Workers on this campus are also experiencing sexual violence, and that needs to be addressed.”

Midway through the speakout, Jesse Ryan, an organizer for TDAC, welcomed attendees to join a group of Dining Services workers and student allies that would be demonstrating at Hodgdon to raise awareness for Tringale's allegations of harassment and retaliation against a Hodgdon dining manager.

According to Tringale, while she was working at Hodgdon on Oct. 29, she was pulled aside by Dining Retail Manager Gary Smyrlian, who proceeded to verbally harass her. Tringale said she was also asked to leave work early after Smyrlian accused her of being violent.

Tringale was joined by a delegation of approximately two dozen Dining Services workers and students in marching into Tufts' Human Resources (HR) at 200 Boston Ave. on Tuesday to demand that HR address Smyrlian's actions.

“I spoke about how I was harassed over my years here [in the Observer article]," Tringale said to the delegation Tuesday. "I was then harassed again."

Students and workers, some of whom were clocked out on their 30-minute break, met outside 200 Boston Ave. and walked together to the HR offices on the first floor. Tringale led the way with her one-year-old son.

When the delegation arrived, Tringale explained her experience to HR Business Partner Joseph Downey in the HR lobby. Downey offered to talk to Tringale in his office but refused to allow the rest of the group into the HR offices. The group waited in the lobby until HR Vice President Julien Carter arrived, at which point Carter, Tringale and the rest of the delegation gathered in a large office in the HR suite, where Tringale told Carter what had happened Monday.

“I was told that I was being violent, then I was sent home,” Tringale said.

Carter asked to meet with Tringale individually to discuss the incident and told the delegation to consult the Employee Handbook for details about the formal grievance process.

“I’m certainly not going to meet with a whole group to talk about a certain situation,” Carter said.

Tringale and Trisha O’Brien, an attendant at Kindlevan Café, then left the group to schedule a meeting with Downey. O’Brien identified herself as the union negotiator for the dining workers, who unionized with UNITE HERE Local 26 in April.

Carter said that there would not be a formal investigation of the incident until further action by Tringale, but that HR would follow normal protocol in looking into it. Members of the delegation also asked that HR organize a formal training for workers and managerial staff to prevent incidents like this from occurring in the future.

“We always want a work environment that is respectful and collegial,” Carter said. “In the workplace, sometimes conflict occurs, and we’re committed to working to get everyone to a positive place.”

Tringale and O’Brien returned to say that they had scheduled an appointment with Downey at 11 a.m. the following day. O’Brien said that the meeting's scheduling was "very professional."

“We demand to be treated fairly, with dignity and respect, and that’s why the union [was established],” she said.

O'Brien added that the tentative agreement between the university and the dining workers during union contract negotiations protects all workers from harassment in the workplace.

The event concluded on the front steps of 200 Boston Ave. with cries of “You mess with one of us, you mess with all of us” and “Together we stand.” By 10:30 a.m., workers and students were heading home or back to campus.

O’Brien said she saw Smyrlian looking at issues of both the Observer and the Daily on Monday and that she told Smyrlian that the article about working conditions for dining workers was in the Observer before Smyrlian approached Tringale.

The Daily reached out to Smyrlian for comment but did not receive a reply in time for publication.

Patrick Collins, Tufts' executive director of public relations, told the Daily in an email that though the university does not provide comment on individual personnel matters, it works to create respectful and productive workplaces for its employees.

“We do strive to ensure that managers and employees alike treat each other with dignity and respect at all times, and to create an environment in which all parties are able to work productively in support of our shared mission,” Collins wrote. “Any complaint raised by an employee will be reviewed and addressed thoroughly.”

TDAC member Edwin Jain said that when members of the coalition heard reports of harassment they decided to act.

“We think that [Smyrlian's alleged harassment] is unacceptable,” Jain, a senior, said. “We want to make sure our community is a safe place for everyone, including dining workers.”

Jain added that joint student-worker delegations and student demonstrations are an important way to show solidarity with Dining Services workers.

On Friday, a delegation of dining workers and employees, similar to the one that gathered at HR on Tuesday, met outside the Mayer Campus Center before walking to Hodgdon to deliver a statement on behalf of Tringale accusing Smyrlian of harassment. Smyrlian was not present at Hodgdon when the group arrived, even though TDAC had checked earlier to confirm that he would be there, according to Ryan.

“It seems that he left because he knew we were coming,” Ryan, a sophomore, said. "Then a manager from a different building on campus said we had to leave and that she wouldn’t pass the message on.”

Ryan and other members of TDAC were unsure how Dining Services management would have been able to anticipate the delegation, as its appearance was not announced publicly in advance.

When the group realized that Smyrlian was not at Hodgdon, it left the building.

Mia Lambert, a lead organizer within TDAC, said the group got word that another dining manager was present at the time, however, so the delegation re-entered the building to deliver its message. The group attempted to reach the other manager, who was on the phone, according to Lambert.

Ryan explained that officers from the Tufts University Police Department arrived shortly thereafter.

“Six officers arrived, and the manager said she wouldn’t talk to us anymore and that any issues should be put in writing," Ryan said.

Although the other manager refused to hear its message, Lambert, a senior, still believed the delegation was successful.

“We accomplished the goals we had, which [were] to show our power and to feel strong together,” she said.

As the delegation left, the students and dining workers cheered in solidarity.

Ryan noted that this demonstration was only the beginning, as the coalition will hold its first rally of the year on Nov. 16.

“We’re going to keep fighting with the workers, doing delegations [and] organizing events like this,” Ryan said.