Prayer service supports Tufts workers

byMark Labbe Pilot Staff

Father James Flavin, episcopal vicar for the archdiocese's Central Region, blesses Tufts University union custodial workers standing behind a symbolic broom and mop at the conclusion of June 13 prayer service. The workers are in the midst of contract negotiations with the university. Courtesy photo

SOMERVILLE -- Around two dozen custodians employed by Tufts University gathered together to pray for peace during their ongoing contract negotiations with the university at a June 13 prayer service held at St. Clement Church in Somerville.

The service was led by Father James Flavin, Episcopal Vicar for the Archdiocese of Boston's Central Region, who used his homily to speak about the Catholic teachings on workers' rights.

"The economy must serve people, not the other way around. Work is more than a way to make a living; it is a form of continuing participation in God's creation," he said.

"If the dignity of work is to be protected, then the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church is very clear that the basic rights of workers must be respected: the right to productive work, to decent and fair wages, to the organization and joining of unions, to private property, and to economic initiative," Father Flavin continued.

Around 200 custodians employed at Tufts are currently undergoing contract negotiations, as their contracts are set to expire on Sept. 30 of this year. The custodians' union, 32BJ SEIU, an affiliate of Service Employees International Union, helped organize the service. Leaders of the union were present at the service along with elected officials including state representatives Christine Barber and Denise Provost, Medford Mayor Stephanie Muccini Burke and Somerville Alderman Mark Neidergang.

Also present were representatives of faith-based workers' rights advocacy groups, including the Archdiocese of Boston's Labor Guild, the Jewish Labor Committee, and Interfaith Worker Justice.

The service also acknowledged a car fire on Tuft's campus and a bomb threat that delayed final exams, May 9. In the note that contained the threat, a reference was made to the labor dispute between Tufts and the custodial workers, with the author expressing support for the workers.

"We were shocked and saddened by the car fire and bomb threat last month on the Tufts campus, where hundreds of our members work every day as custodians, security officers and tradespeople. We believe this service will help restore the peace and optimism that are important for all those who study, work and live in and around that great university," said Roxana Rivera, 32BJ SEIU District 615 Vice President.

In his homily, Father Flavin condemned the bomb threat and car fire, saying that "violence is never a solution to encourage change."

"We are one human family, whatever our national, racial, ethnic, economic, and ideological differences. We are our brothers and sisters' keepers, wherever they may be and we must live the Golden Rule to do unto others as you would have others do unto you," he said.

After Father Flavin's homily, he blessed a mop and a broom, the custodians' trade tools, before each of the custodians put a white carnation into a vase at the foot of the altar, symbolizing their commitment to peace.