Hunger strike at Tufts to save janitors jobs

Five students at Tufts University in Massachusetts have been on a hunger strike since May 3.

The students are supporting 35 school janitors who are being laid off.

The hungers strikers, who belong to the Tufts Labor Coalition (TLC), are demanding that Tufts stop the proposed layoffs.

“Our decision to hunger strike and occupy space on campus is in solidarity with the janitors’ calls for no cuts,” said Nicole Joseph an organizer with the TLC.”This culmination comes from a long history of Tufts treating workers poorly. We have decided to pursue this drastic action to make Tufts administrators’ priorities align with the rest of the Tufts community, given that all previous efforts from workers and students have been silenced and ignored.”

The Tufts administration recently announced that 35 part-time janitorial positions will be cut for budgetary reasons.

The janitors work for DTZ, a private company that provides janitorial services for Tufts.

The Tufts administration said that the layoffs at the school, which has an endowment worth $1.6 billion, are the result of budget constraints and the school’s desire to keep education affordable.

“We take seriously our responsibility to control tuition costs and offer financial aid that allows us to admit outstanding students from all socioeconomic backgrounds,” said Kim Thuler, Tuft’s director of public relations.

Thuler went on to say that the administration is looking for other ways to lower administrative expenses.

Lorena Arita, one of the janitors whose job is being eliminated, had a different take on the impact that the layoffs will have on making higher education affordable.

“To be cut, to be fired, will create big problems economically,” said Arita, whose son is attending college elsewhere, to the Somerville Journal. “I have payments of my son’s university that I couldn’t continue making.”

Tufts is located in Medford and Somerville, Massachusets.

The Somerville City Council, which passed a resolution supporting the janitors, suggested another way of keeping higher education affordable.

According to the City Council’s resolution, instead of making low-wage workers bear the cost, Tuft’s administration should rein in the over sized salaries of some of its top executives.

The resolution noted that Tuft’s president Anthony Monaco in 2012, the latest year for which salary information is available, was paid $705,728 for the year.

Other top administrators had salaries of at least $500,000 and ten had salaries of at least $300,000.

The most recent post on the Tufts Labor Coalition’s Facebook page said that the hunger strikers are beginning to feel the effects of not eating for two days but their resolve is still strong.

Supporters of the hunger strike have pitched tents around the five and are occupying space near the administration building.

“Our hunger strike is basically our last resort,” said Arismer Angeles, one of the students on strike. “Other actions that we’ve tried to perform on campus have yielded little to no results and this is our last chance we think before the semester ends and these cuts happened.

“The students at Tufts University who are calling for the preservation of essential jobs on their campus deserve enormous credit taking initiative on this critical economic justice issue,” said Roxanna Rivera, vice-president of the janitors’ union, SEIU 32BJ. “The Tufts Labor Coalition is an inspiring, student-led effort that for years has been working to defend workers’ rights in campus. They recognize how much the workers at Tufts contribute to the campus community and the world beyond its gates. The students who chose bold action and engaged in a hunger strike deserve our unconditional support and respect.

“The hunger strikers should know that 32BJ SEIU janitors appreciate the students’ courage.  SEIU 32Bj hopes for quick end to the hunger strike and a just outcome for the whole Tufts community.”

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