Janitors face ‘dramatic’ rescheduling, union warns of legal action

Update — July 24, 2015: Tufts University released a statement yesterday to faculty and staff. The announcement reiterates Linda Snyder’s comments included in this article but with two new pieces of information:

  • The scheduled number of janitors to be laid off has been reduced from 20 to 12. This is due to attrition and a recognition of need for cleaning services at the new building at 574 Boston Ave, according to the statement. (I wrote about the inconsistency between layoffs and new constructions early in the summer.) It is unclear whether or not this includes janitors that may or may not have been laid off when the announcement was originally made.
  • The reorganization was originally motivated by “analysis” by DTZ which found Tufts’ custodial services to be inefficient as compared to “comparable” universities. The recent announcement declares that inefficiency to be approximately 20%.

Tufts custodians are in the midst of more conflict with their employer DTZ and contractor, Tufts University, facing “dramatic and sudden reorganization,” according to a press release from the Tufts Labor Coalition (TLC), the janitors’ student advocates.

The statement claims that DTZ has “effectively eliminated all existing positions” and is requiring janitors to bid for their top three position preferences (i.e. morning, afternoon, night shift). The TLC statement asserts that these positions are delineated by shift duration (i.e. 6:00AM — 3:00PM) and no more information is given about the specifics of the work.

The positions will be handed out based on who has worked for the university for the longest period of time (seniority) and janitors currently on temporary summer leave will not being given the option to bid.

A union representative, who was unable to speak publicly, said, SEIU, the union which represents the Tufts custodians, is seriously concerned about DTZ’s proposal to overhaul scheduling and start a bidding process.

The representative noted such a move violates the current collective bargaining agreement and if implemented would trigger legal action against DTZ.

Besides the contractual concerns, the “sudden and disruptive” reorganization includes a slash in weekly hours from 37.5 to 30 which is a 20 percent reduction.

Tufts University’s Vice President of Operations, Linda Snyder, said, in a response to inquiries about the TLC press release, that the hour reduction and rescheduling “is consistent with plans and discussions of the last year”, referencing the previously announced reorganization plan.

Snyder further explains that DTZ’s proposal “follows the requirements of the SEIU and DTZ contract” adding that the bidding process is a “formal labor relations based structure,” for which SEIU negotiated, in order to provide an opportunity for janitors to express their preferences for shifts.

Tufts Labor Coalition activists said in their press release that student complaints of too much noise during early morning shifts is the administration’s motivation for this sudden change. Union and university representatives did not comment on this claim.

While an exact timeline for the schedule change has not been specified by the union, TLC or university representatives with whom I spoke, the activists’ press release claims janitors are expected to bid for these positions by today, July 22.

As for Tufts faculty and community members, several have voiced their displeasure with the DTZ’s proposal.

Somerville Alderman, Dennis Sullivan, who originally showed his support for Tufts custodians during student activists’ week-long hunger-strike, said in an email, that he was “saddened and disappointed in Tufts University’s unfair treatment of working women and men” and the difficulties it creates for their families.

Furthermore, Professor Gary Goldstein, a long-time supporter of labor movements at Tufts, said in an email, that over twenty university faculty members have independently wrote university officials, insisting they stop these scheduling changes from happening citing moral, legal and contractual concerns.

This is not the first time university faculty and city officials have objected to the treatment of Tufts custodians.

In 1997, 150 faculty signed a petition in protest of janitors’ treatment by the university and their contractors and at the 1998 Commencement Ceremony, 70% of attending faculty reportedly wore yellow pins as a sign of support for custodians.

In this year’s wave of layoffs, faculty have organized a protest, as well as signed a TLC-initiated petition of support.

As far as city and state officials are concerned, Somerville Alderman, Dennis Sullivan, is not alone either. In 1997, six state representatives released a statement of support to area media outlets and on April 7th of this year, the Medford City Council unanimously passed a resolution opposing the university’s treatment of their custodial workers.

This reorganization comes on the heels of recently announced layoffs, which were protested for nearly a year through sit-ins, rallies and a week-long hunger strike.

DTZ representatives have not yet returned request for comment.



I am a photojournalist and digital reporter with an interest in media innovation, digital platforms, and political systems. I make pictures and report on labor.

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Nicholas Pfosi

Nicholas Pfosi

I am a photojournalist and digital reporter with an interest in media innovation, digital platforms, and political systems. I make pictures and report on labor.