Over 100 students, workers and union leaders rallied for a new contract for Tufts Dining Services union employees outside the Mayer Campus Center on March 1.
UNITE HERE Local 26, the local organization with which Tufts dining workers unionized in 2018, co-led the rally with the Tufts Labor Coalition. Members from both the Revolutionary Marxist Student Group and the United Labor of Tufts Residents Assistants spoke at the rally.
With the union’s contract expiring on June 30, 96% of workers agreed to a set of four demands to increase wages and benefits. The rally culminated with the delivery of these demands to the local office for Tufts Dining Services and Catering. The first of these demands was wage parity with dining employees at Harvard University, who make more than dining workers at Tufts by $6 per hour on average.
Arthur Laskaris, a dining service attendant at Carmichael Dining Center, was clear with his intentions for attending.
“[I’m here] to show support for my co-workers … and to show that our demands are reasonable,” Laskaris said.
Laskaris, who has worked for Tufts Dining Services for just under two years, is what the union would call “non-legacy.” Since he was hired after the 2018 union contract was signed, he receives different benefits than those who have held their positions for longer. This difference is the subject of one of the union’s other demands: standardizing benefits for all Tufts dining workers.
“I am a non-legacy as opposed to legacy,” Laskaris said. “[The demand] makes sense, so that we’re all on equal footing, all employees.”
Other demands included mandatory replacement, meaning that Tufts Dining Services would refrain from outsourcing labor when current employees leave. Workers also demanded summer stipends when there is no work available, as many dining employees are left wageless and unable to apply for unemployment in the summer season.
For Laskaris, the fight for summer stipends hit close to home.
“I’m on the lower end of the seniority scale, so it’s very unlikely that I would get summer work,” Laskaris said. “What do you do when you need to feed yourself in the summertime? Well, you start to rethink things.”
Patrick Collins, Tufts’ executive director of media relations, declined to address any of the union’s specific demands but affirmed the university’s commitment to bargaining.
“We’re committed to constructive engagement at the bargaining table and fair treatment of all Tufts employees,” Collins wrote in an email to the Daily. “Out of respect for the union and the negotiation process, we think it is appropriate to limit our discussion of specific proposals to the bargaining table.”
Cole Lewis, a first-year student and member of the Tufts Labor Coalition, helped to organize the student portion of the rally. Lewis spent much of the rally handing out pins supporting cafeteria workers and revving up the crowd.
Lewis was clear in his goal for the rally.
“[We want to show] the Tufts administration that whatever the workers are advocating for, whatever the union’s advocating for, that [we’re] behind it, because Tufts dining workers are integral to our experience here and we should support them with whatever they need,” Lewis said.
Lewis also emphasized that students’ role within the rally was to support, not to lead.
“I come from a place of privilege that I’m not a worker at Tufts,” Lewis noted. “It's important to recognize that people like me … shouldn’t necessarily be the ones driving this. We should be supporting and doing labor for people that are actually experiencing it, that are leading it.”
Students and dining workers alike marched through the streets, banging on buckets with drumsticks and screaming out chants. While the union leaders went onto the porch of the dining management offices on Curtis Street to deliver the demands, student leaders stayed among the crowd, cheering in solidarity.
Laskaris expressed his gratitude for the students who stood alongside him, pointing out that the students were why he loved his job.
“We’re here to serve the Tufts community, students and everyone else who walks through those doors; I like that, I really enjoy that,” Laskaris said. “Here, you get to build relationships.”