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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Friday, April 19, 2024

Tufts agrees to dining workers’ demands in new contract

Negotiators for the dining workers’ union achieved a $9.92 hourly wage increase to be carried out over the next 4 ½ years.

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Students and dining workers rally at the Campus Center on April 27.

Tufts Dining workers, represented by the labor union UNITE HERE Local 26, reached a new contract agreement with the university on Aug. 26. The new collective bargaining agreement, which has been under negotiation since March, includes all of the union’s main demands.

“The benefits are substantial,” Jonah VanderMel, a dining services attendant and Tufts University student, said. “This contract is going to carry us through the end of 2027.

Negotiators focused on four main demands for this new contract, but VanderMel said staff members are most excited about the $9.92 increase to hourly wages to be rolled out over the next 4 ½ years.

“There’s a peace of mind there that people don’t have to worry about this sort of insecurity for a few years,” VanderMel said. “The raise was substantial. It’s going to, we believe, set a precedent for other universities as well … There’s a lot of people that work two jobs, or they’re raising kids, some single parents, just people that really need this money — especially with cost of living increases that have occurred in recent years.”

VanderMel, who works at the Carmichael dining hall location, has been a Tufts Dining employee since 2018. He served on the contract’s bargaining committee and worked with the Tufts Dining Action Coalition, a Tufts Labor Coalition-organized group of students dedicated to supporting dining workers.

He said that higher wages is the benefit “people are most excited about,” as “it’s going to probably see the most tangible benefits for everybody.”

Patrick Collins, executive director of public relations at Tufts, praised the agreement between the university and dining workers.

“We’re glad that we were able to reach agreement with UNITE HERE Local 26 on a new, four-and-a-half year contract,” Collins wrote in an email to the Daily. “We think the contract is fair for both sides and provides our dining employees with competitive compensation and benefits throughout the entire contract. We look forward to continuing to work productively with the union as we move ahead implementing the new contract terms.”

In addition to increasing hourly wages, Tufts University has agreed to provide summer stipends to non-working dining staff, eliminate the compensatory distinction between legacy and non-legacy workers and improve guidelines around mandatory replacement and overtime, according to TDAC.

Carlos Aramayo is the president of UNITE HERE Local 26, the union that represents Tufts Dining workers along with over 12,000 hospitality workers in the greater Boston area, including those at other local universities.

“We set a standard at Northeastern that got every single dining service worker … above $30 an hour in the life of a four-and-a-half year contract, and we needed to match that at Tufts,” he said.

Aramayo and the rest of the union are also happy to have addressed the lack of summer employment for the university’s dining workers.

“[Tufts Dining workers are] not eligible for unemployment [insurance] from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts,” he said. “And so if someone doesn’t get work, there is now money set aside to give them a stipend over the summer, which is a really big win for people, because [there is] a lot of anxiety every year about getting the summer jobs, and now that's been lifted.

UNITE HERE Local 26 provided the dining workers with a professional negotiator to represent them in bargaining meetings.

“I would say it was a challenging negotiation,” Aramayo said. “Obviously, we needed a significant wage increase and benefit protections in the life of the contract. … We all knew it was a big number.”

97% of Tufts dining workers had pledged to go on strike if Tufts refused to accept the terms of the contract, according to TDAC, but VanderMel said workers were “definitely relieved” that they never had to do so.

“Negotiations don’t work unless both sides are ready and willing to really talk it out and try to figure out how to get it done,” Aramayo said. “I do think the university administration was an honest broker and played a productive role in understanding what our members really needed to feel respected at the job at the university.”

The dining workers’ contract deal comes while other unionized workers around campus, including Tufts resident assistants, SMFA part-time lecturers and graduate students, are currently engaged in contract negotiations with Tufts.

“The university takes into account a host of factors and works to balance them in a way that is fair and equitable for all employees while also responsibly stewarding the university’s resources in order to support its mission, vision and values,” Collins wrote. In all of its planning, the university must balance both present demands and long-term goals and allocate resources wisely to ensure that it advances the university’s many needs, such as financial aid, facilities, faculty recruitment and retention, the research enterprise, and numerous others.”

Aramayo said he believes student engagement from the Tufts Labor Coalition and TDAC were a very significant piece” of what helped dining workers win their new contract.

“Students were an extraordinary support, and the victory is shared by the students — no questions asked,” he said.