Tufts Hunger Strike Continues After Second Meeting with Administration

tufts hunger strikePhoto courtesy of the Tufts Labor Coalition.

Students in the Tufts Labor Coalition met today with university administrators to discuss possible cuts to custodial staff that the TLC has been protesting for months. According to a statement released by the workers’ rights group, the university put forward an alternative proposal, but no decision was reached.

In the meantime, five students who began a hunger strike on May 3 will continue to abstain from food in solidarity with janitors who would be affected by the cuts, despite the fact that they are experiencing weakness and some trouble walking.

The new proposal, which would reduce the number of layoffs from 35 to 20 and make cuts by seniority, was not enough for the labor group, who said that this “new” proposal only represents compliance to union contracts.

On April 27, Executive Vice President Patricia Campbell and Vice President of Operations Linda Snyder co-authored an op-ed defending the administration’s decision to proceed with restructuring the janitorial staff.

“The reorganization is one element of an institution-wide commitment to improve operational efficiencies so that Tufts’ limited resources can be directed to its core mission–providing an exceptional education to talented students and recruiting outstanding faculty to teach and mentor them,” they said in the op-ed.

Tufts began outsourcing its custodial services in 1994, joining what has now become the norm for many higher education institutions. Private companies like DTZ at Tufts and Aramark at Boston University provide cleaning and dining services for private institutions. These employees are considered contractors and are not considered university employees, which means they miss out on some of the rights and benefits that status would garner them. The janitors at Tufts, for example, can’t strike. So the students are doing it for them.

“I’m happy to see students out there supporting working people,” said Ward One Alderman Matthew McLaughlin in a phone interview with Scout. In early in April, Somerville Board of Alderman passed a resolution declaring support for the custodians in the battle against Tufts.

“There’s no good reason [for the cuts] other than to make money for the people on top,” McLaughlin said. “This is not how a non-profit organization should behave.”

From a city standpoint, he said that Tufts gets away with a lot without reimbursing the city. As a non-profit, Tufts is exempt from paying property taxes. The university does provide some compensation to the city, though at an annual payment of $275,000–which is just a little over what it would cost one student to earn a four-year degree.

McLaughlin said that this was a particularly personal issue for him because both his parents worked as custodians while he was growing up. In particular, his mother was worked as a custodian at MIT about two decades ago. Had it not been for what at the time were well paying jobs, McLaughlin feels his family would have been pushed out of the city. He believes that Tufts has contracted out jobs like these to avoid unions and absolve responsibility for paying their workers a fair wage, despite its $1.6 billion endowment.

The hunger strike comes after months of direct action targeting the administration, including a 33-hour sit-in at an administrative building on the Tufts campus that took place in December. Following that action, Campbell reportedly signed an agreement not to lay off any workers until April at the earliest. The TLC has also organized a number of marches and rallies with janitors over the last several months to raise awareness about the pending cuts. The administration is set to meet again with the TLC Thursday morning.