A group of dining hall workers at Tufts University announced Tuesday that they are joining a labor union.
A delegation went to the offices of the university administration to present a photo petition of workers holding a banner with signatures pledging to unionize. They said they are joining UNITE HERE Local 26 and demanded that the university recognize the union.
UNITE HERE Local 26 represents nearly 10,000 members in hotels, food service, Logan International Airport and gaming across Massachusetts and Rhode Island.
Union organizing director Michael Kramer said they are asking the administration to recognize them without a National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) process, which would proctor its own election of the employees.
In response, Tufts spokesman Patrick Collins said the administration respects the workers' right to seek an NLRB election. "We respect the rights of employees to decide for themselves whether unionization is in their best interests," Collins said.
Kramer said an "overwhelming majority" of up to 200 direct employees of Tufts signed union cards in favor of the union, but he would not give a tally. He said workers "just want a seat at the table" and that they haven't cemented what their demands are.
Grazie Difabio, 61, was part of the delegation and says she is unable to care for her grandchildren because of her changing schedule. She said that as a 14-year employee of the university, her employers should consider her seniority.
Making $17 per hour, Difabio lost her home after not being able to pay the rent on a single income after the death of her husband. "I couldn't afford to stay by myself," she said.
Over 500 Tufts students joined the delegation and rallied outside the offices. Forty-three student groups joined a coalition to support the unionizing workers.
"My mother worked a service job for most of her life. I saw her struggle," said Edwin Jain, a junior majoring in computer science. "She always wished there was someone who would stand by her. Tufts students are prepared to back workers until we win."