Another labor strike looms over a Massachusetts college campus.
About 200 janitors who maintain the Medford/Somerville Tufts University campus voted Thursday to authorize a strike if they don't reach a new contract agreement with the school by Monday.
"We don't take a strike vote lightly, but the hardworking men and women who take care of Tufts are ready to do what's necessary to support their families," said Roxana Rivera, vice president of the 32BJ SEIU union that represents the workers.
The union has been negotiating with Tufts' cleaning contractor, C&W Services, on behalf of the custodial workers since August. Workers are asking for fair wage increases as costs in the Boston area continue to rise and for pathways to full-time jobs.
"Too many people at Tufts still have to cobble together two, three jobs just to pay the bills," Rivera said. "We can avoid this problem by promoting full-time work and get a good contract."
The current contract expires Monday.
Eugenio Willasante of 32BJ SEIU said that custodial workers currently make $19.35 an hour and are asking for a cost of living increase. The union noted that Tufts has a $1.6 billion endowment with net assets of $2.2 billion and is "in a strong position to continue offering hardworking Bostonians the good middle-class jobs that our communities need."
Workers said that too often, positions are designated as "part time" so that the employer is not responsible for paying for the workers' health care. They are then forced to take on multiple jobs, sacrificing time with their families and communities, they said.
The union also wants to ensure that janitors have strong contractual protections against "indiscriminate layoffs."
Patrick Collins, a spokesperson for the university, said that by law, Tufts is not involved in the negotiations. C&W has prepared a plan to continue providing janitorial services to the school in the event that an agreement isn't reached, he said.
"The plan would prioritize student and healthcare spaces on all of Tufts’ campuses, such as dining facilities, dorms, bathrooms, locker rooms, clinics, and animal hospital facilities," he said in a news release. "We value the employees of C&W who provide janitorial services to our campuses, and we remain hopeful that the current talks between the SEIU and C&W will result in a fair agreement for all parties."