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Many university employees have been left with no jobs for the summer season.

(Somerville Wire) – The Tufts Labor Coalition held a rally in solidarity with Tufts University Dining workers on July 30, in front of Dewick Macphie Dining Hall, on campus. The dining workers, who are part of a collective bargaining agreement between Tufts and UNITE HERE Local 26, are demanding that the administration pay them for the summer season, as over 130 employees have not been given the opportunity to work this summer. The workers heard news of their unemployment abruptly and were not given advanced warning. For many who attempted to collect unemployment insurance over the summer, claims have been contested by the school, and they have been unable to get support. These workers will be going without a pay for the summer.

“Tufts has abandoned its Dining workers, plain and simple,” said David Boulet-Gercourt, a member of the TLC, at the rally. “… Because of COVID, the usual summer programs that are running are not operating this summer. What that means is that over 130 Dining workers that typically work during the summer have not been offered jobs this year. Just one week before the end of the semester, dining workers received a letter telling them that their employment status makes them ineligible to receive unemployment benefits, leaving them with no time to find another job and with no income for the entire summer.” He added, “For the entire past year, Tufts has sent email after email and put out statement after statement talking about equity, talking about justice, talking about standing up for frontline workers. And what has all of that talk gotten us? Nothing.”

Because of the pandemic, Tufts is not holding large events that require catering on campus, and many dining spaces will be closed for the summer. Kindlevan Café, Tower Café, Commons Marketplace,  Hotung Café, the central kitchen, the bakery, catering, and Hodgdon have been closed. According to Tricia O’Brien, a service attendant and shop steward at Tufts, in the workers’ collective bargaining agreement, Article 36 establishes that many of the Dining workers who were unable to work over the summer would be considered regular, full time employees, working 40 hours a week. Their contracts do not specify if they are yearlong or academic-year employees, making it evident that they were laid off by Tufts during the summer.

“I was in negotiations, and I know what we fought for,” said O’Brien. “We fought for seniority. They didn’t want to make people 52 week employees. We said, we are full time or part time, regular employees. It has nothing that says academic year. … We also have parts of the contract that say if people can’t work during the summertime, that [Tufts] would find them alternative work throughout the university. So anybody who would like to work could work.”

However, Patrick Collins, executive director of media relations at Tufts University, explained that the university considers the employees who were ineligible for work over the summer are considered academic-year workers. Academic-year employees are not necessarily able to work over the summer, he wrote.

“The university used to have some year-round dining positions. However, following the ratification of the first collective bargaining agreement between the union and university, the union was very clear that it wanted all dining employees to be considered academic-year employees, meaning that they would work from roughly August to roughly May,” wrote Collins, in a statement. “The union and the university arbitrated that issue last year, and the union won. As a result of that binding decision, all dining employees are now academic-year employees and there is no guarantee of employment during summer months. To be clear, there have been no layoffs. Last year, the Commonwealth made certain exceptions due to the COVID- 19 state of emergency, and many individuals were granted benefits for claims that, in 2021, are being denied. This year – as in years past – employees who are scheduled to be off for the summer but have a reasonable expectation of returning to work in the fall are generally not eligible to receive unemployment benefits. Consistent with our long-standing practice, the University provided letters to dining employees who are expected to return to work next fall.”

Judy Pineda Neufeld, who is running for City Council, said that as an alumna of Tufts University, she has been advocating on behalf of the dining workers. Neufeld was involved in the Student Labor Action Movement when she was a student, and she said that in the past, Tufts University has made strides to help support workers. But it has not been enough, she said, adding that the school has the budget to compensate workers with. Since dining workers were given notice about their inability to get unemployment claims in May, they did not have enough time to try to find alternative work.

“That’s a huge issue—the timeframe,” said Neufeld. “If you don’t know that you need to find other income opportunities, to make sure that there’s food on the table for your kids, it’s incredibly important that you have enough time to do that. The time frame was a big piece of the challenge here. Given the fact that they didn’t give folks much notice, helping them find jobs, other sources of income, is the right thing to do.”

Christine Tringale, a union shop steward at Tufts, said at the rally that the workers are demanding pay for the summer months when they are unable to work.

“There’s no reason they couldn’t sit down and say or even tell us there’s another alternative,” said Tringale. “There was no alternative work, based on Article 30. There’s no unemployment. Now what do we do? We’re right here. That’s what we do. We do petitions. We talk about it. We spread awareness. Summer’s almost over. People haven’t had income.”

This article is syndicated by the Somerville Wire municipal news service of the Somerville News Garden project of the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism.

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Shira Laucharoen is assistant director of the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism and assistant editor and staff reporter of the Somerville Wire.

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