Tufts announces scheduled layoffs for custodial staff, despite student protests

Lorena cleans the first floor bathrooms in West Hall, an upperclassmen dorm at Tufts University, on November 3rd, 2014. (Nicholas Pfosi / The Tufts Daily)

At around 11:30 a.m. the Tufts University administration sent an email to the Tufts community concerning the proposed custodial cuts, saying six janitors will be fired today, with the rest of the 20 layoffs finished by August of this year.

This three month plan is a change from the original layoff timeframe of two weeks.

Roxana Rivera, the vice president of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), the union which represents the university’s custodial staff, said in a public statement, that “by no means is [three months] enough time to relocate the workers or test the new systems.” She views the administration as “[turning] a blind eye to the impact of these cuts” and said that the union will continue to resist the university’s plan.

The announcement comes on the heels of nearly a year of protests from TLC and later the SEIU.

Janitors tearfully embrace hunger strikers during the second silent protest while Tufts Labor Coalition leaders and the administration have another negotiations meeting concerning janitorial staff cuts on Wednesday, May. 6, 2015. (Nicholas Pfosi / The Tufts Daily)

These protests escalated toward the end of the university’s spring semester, resulting in arrests and a week-long hunger strike which was ultimately unsuccessful at leading to any concessions. (For a timeline of events read this Storify).

The university announcement claims an expected annual savings of $900,000 as a result of these layoffs and that the “decision… was not made lightly.” The staff cuts were proposed in response to an analysis conducted by DTZ, the company to which the university outsources its cleaning staff, which found Tufts to be less efficient than its Boston area peer institutions.

Patricia Campbell, Tufts Executive Vice President, and Linda Snyder,
Vice President for Operations, elaborate on the rationale for these cuts in this opinion piece in the Tufts Daily.

WBUR, after obtaining the maintenance contracts from several area institutions, found Tufts janitors have a lower starting salary than several other schools:

[The maintenance contracts] show that Tufts is already paying its janitors a starting salary at the low end. Tufts janitors start at $18/hour, more than the $16 paid by BC, but less than Harvard at $20, MIT at $21, and BU at $22.

Another point of contention between activists and the administration, besides the job loss, was the increased workload a reduced staff would mean for the remaining workers.

According to TLC activists, many janitors are burdened with pain while on the job and say that the janitors already feel overworked. Patricia Campbell and Linda Snyder address the workload concern in their announcement, by stating that DTZ will reduce the frequency of cleaning in areas, like staff offices, while focusing more on dormitories and other high use areas.

DTZ could not be reached for comment by press time. The union declined additional comment.

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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.

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.