Tufts students on hunger strike over janitors layoffs frustrated at university response

Associated Press

Tufts University students on a hunger strike over janitor layoffs say they're frustrated at the university's response.

Members of the student group the Tufts Labor Coalition say they met with university officials Tuesday as five hunger strikers living in tents on the campus green entered their third day without food.

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They said the hunger strikers are experiencing physical weakness, but their commitment remains strong.

The student group said no agreement was reached, but the administration requested another meeting Wednesday.

The group wants the university to halt plans to lay off some 35 janitors in June until contract negotiations can begin next spring.

A Tufts spokeswoman says Executive Vice President Patricia Campbell and Vice President for Operations Linda Snyder met with students to request negotiations, but students did not agree to negotiations, instead agreeing to Wednesday's meeting.

Nicole Joseph, a freshman who attended Tuesday's meeting, expressed frustration with the administration's response so far.

"It didn't make sense: they expressed concern about ending the strike, but came to the meeting with no proposals or plans of negotiating to meet workers' and students' demands," she said in a statement.

The university, located north of Boston, has said it supports the students' right to protest but said the cuts will help direct resources to Tufts' "core educational mission."

The students began the hunger strike Sunday, just as Tufts begins its week of final exams.

About a dozen tents have been set up next to the university's main administrative building, with about 20 students occupying the space.

The university has cordoned off the area with a low steel barrier and posted a campus officer at its entry so only students may enter.

The students say they're striking because the janitors' contract prohibits them from going on strike.

The hunger strike is part of an escalating dispute over the janitorial jobs and has been simmering for months.

Four Tufts students and three activists with the Service Employees International Union, which represents the janitors, were arrested Thursday after blocking traffic during a demonstration in Somerville.

Janitors have also rallied in support of the hunger strikers.

The students say dozens of their peers are also participating in daylong fasts in solidarity with the janitors.