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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Sunday, April 14, 2024

More than 800 people attend picket for dining workers, strike vote set for March 14

Students participate in 'Picket for a Fair Dining Contract' in front of Carmichael Dining Hall on March 5.

Editor's note: This article is an updated version of earlier coverage the Daily ran of the picket.

In a dramatic development in their seven-month campaign for a contract with the university, Tufts Dining workers will vote on whether to go on strike on March 14, according to UNITE HERE Local 26 President Brian Lang.

Lang made the announcement yesterday evening at a picket attended by more than 800 demonstrators, according to a count by Tufts Dining Action Coalition (TDAC), in front of Carmichael Hall.

“The next stage of this campaign begins over this next week," he said. "Dining workers are going to begin a discussion amongst themselves about whether or not it makes sense to take the ultimate action, and that’s a strike."

Several dining workers then unveiled a banner bearing the words “Tufts Dining: Ready to Strike!” above the pictures of over 100 dining workers who intend to vote in favor of the strike. Lang said that a substantial majority of the dining workers had already pledged to support a strike.

“Tufts University can afford for one job to be enough for all workers. It was never a question of affordability, it’s a question of respect for human dignity,” Lang told the crowd through a megaphone. “This administration is getting increasingly isolated on this campus and in the communities around this campus.”

Lang said the rift would only worsen in the next few weeks unless the university accepted the workers’ demands, which he described as modest.

Patrick Collins, executive director of public relations for Tufts, said that the university respects the right of the workers and community members to express their opinions on the negotiations, and that the university is committed to reaching an agreement.

“We hope the union doesn’t go on strike,” Collins said in an email to the Daily. “We think doing so would hurt students and other members of our community and harm the union’s relationship with the university.”

Collins said that in the case of a strike, Tufts would be able to continue feeding students, but that services could be reduced. He said the university hopes to resolve the situation as soon as possible.

The dining workers first began their negotiations with Tufts in August 2018.

In an email to the Daily after the latest round of negotiations on Feb. 27, Mike Kramer, the lead negotiator for UNITE HERE Local 26, wrote that the sticking points were key economic issues, including wages and healthcare.

Collins said that both parties have made progress in the talks.

The crowd of demonstrators began to gather in front of Carmichael Hall around 4:15 p.m. for the picket. By 4:45 p.m., the line of marchers stretched from Wren Hall parking lot to the corner of Houston Hall and continued up to the F.W. Olin Center for Language and Culture Studies.

The crowd was made up of dining workers, students and community members chanting slogans including “What do we want? Fair Contract! When do we want it? Now!" and "If we don’t get it? Shut it down!” and toting signs that read “One Job Should Be Enough” and “Tony Monaco making the big bucks, why do you pay your workers peanuts?”

Trisha O’Brien, a dining services attendant at Kindlevan Café who held the banner at the head of the procession as it moved to Dewick-MacPhie Dining Center, said that she would vote for the the strike because she thinks negotiations are not going well, and a strike is necessary in order for the workers to secure a fair contract.

O’Brien appealed to University President Anthony Monaco directly.

“Just work with us. Just listen to us. Just give us what every other college has,” she said.

Other dining workers who took part in the demonstration, like Jane Scoppa, a dining services attendant at Tower Café, also explained why they were going to support the strike.

“Tell [Monaco] to try supporting a family on what I bring in. I got a 14-cent raise three years in a row, then they raised the parking [fee] $10,” she said.

Georgia Kay, a member of TDAC, the group that organized the demonstrations, said that fault for a strike would lie with the university who have “forced the workers’ hand” by refusing to accept their demands during negotiations.

“[The dining workers] don't want to go on strike. Nobody wants to go on strike," Kay, a first-year, said. "It's a huge sacrifice, but it's what’s necessary for workers right now, for them to be taken seriously and for the university to finally listen to them and treat them with respect."

In a statement to the Daily, the Tufts Community Union Senate Executive Board urged the administration to ensure the workers receive fair wages and benefits and affirmed their support for the workers in their campaign,.

“Tufts prides itself on its commitment to civic engagement and treating all people with respect,” the statement read. “These contract negotiations are an opportunity for the university to practice what it preaches.”

Viola Wallace, a first-year who marched in the picket line, expressed her support for the strike.

Wallace said she was appalled that the dining workers still did not have a fair contract and that she would stand by the workers come what may, including a strike.

The draw of the protests did not stop at the boundaries of campus, with a fair number of Somerville and Medford residents in attendance, including local public officials.

The president of the Somerville City Council Katjana Ballantyne marched in the demonstration alongside the dining workers, many of whom are her constituents, as she represents much of the area south of Tufts. She echoed the slogan written on the signs of the demonstrators, saying she wanted Tufts to become a example among Massachusetts institutions by paying their workers enough.

Medford resident Tom Lall, who is a UNITE HERE Local 26 member not employed at Tufts, came to show his support for his fellow union members.

“Greedy schools keep taking the money but don’t want to pay their workers. They need to show some respect,” he said.

The situation at Tufts is reminiscent of two recent contract struggles at Harvard University and Northeastern University between dining workers organized by UNITE HERE Local 26 and university administrations.

Lang used the former example to appeal to the crowd that listened as he made the announcement of the strike vote, drawing parallels between the negotiations at Tufts and those at other schools.

After the Harvard dining workers unionized in 2016, they entered negotiations with the university.

“[Harvard] University didn’t take it seriously. It was never a question of whether or not they could afford for one job to be enough on that campus,” Lang told the demonstrators at Tufts. “It took the courage of 750 dining hall workers at Harvard to say, enough is enough, 'one job should be enough.' And they went out on strike for 22 days to accomplish that.”

In 2017, dining workers at Northeastern University, also represented by UNITE HERE Local 26, voted to strike, but the strike was averted after the two sides reached a tentative agreement before it took place, according to the Huntington News, the independent student newspaper at Northeastern. Workers and students activists dubbed this a victory.

Yesterday’s demonstrations concluded around 6:30 p.m. outside Dewick with Lucson Aime, a first cook at Dewick, leading the crowd in chants of “We’ll be back!”