Friday, November 03, 2006

a shanty town has been built in liberty city

check out the take back the land blog. this is inspiring. here is the miami herald article on it:

Housing activists set up camp in Liberty City
Protesters angry at a lack of affordable housing set up a tent camp on cityowned land in Liberty City.

A group of activists pitched camp in the heart of Liberty City on Monday to protest what they called the failure of the city and Miami-Dade County to build affordable housing.

Carrying tents, tarps and banners that read, ''Take back the Land!,'' the group said it was building a shantytown on a vacant, city-owned lot to house hundreds of the neighborhood's homeless.

''The government is an active part of the problem,'' said Max Rameau, spokesman for the Center for Pan-African Development, an activist organization. ``The city and the county have no interest in housing poor black people, so we will do it ourselves.''

About 40 people gathered at the corner of Northwest 62nd Street and 17th Avenue. As they pitched tents and served soup on the trash-strewn lot, passersby stopped to look.

Among them was 20-year-old Roderick Mitchell, a former resident of the Scott/Carver Homes. Mitchell said he and his sister have lived with relatives since their section of the huge housing complex closed in 2004.

Mitchell said he planned to join the group camping out Monday night.

''This statement can help,'' Mitchell said, gesturing at the activity around him.

But Rameau, one of the key organizers, said his intention is not simply to make a statement. The group, including members of Hope for the Homeless and Hopeless and the Fort Lauderdale chapter of Food Not Bombs, intends to provide shelter and food indefinitely, Rameau said.

The group did not notify the city of its intention to take over the lot.

Several city police cruisers -- including one carrying Neighborhood Enhancement Team administrator Von Carol Kinchens -- drove up about 30 minutes after the activists converged on the lot.

The officers warned the protesters they could face arrest but then left.

''As long as there's no criminal activity, we're just letting them vent out,'' said William Moreno, a department spokesman.

Rameau said the group is protected by a landmark legal case, Pottinger v. City of Miami, a class-action suit filed by the ACLU and settled in 1998.

The settlement prohibited Miami police from arresting homeless people engaged in ''life-sustaining conduct'' -- such as sleeping or eating -- on public property when there is no shelter space available.

The people who set up camp on the lot should remain in the clear legally as long as they don't obstruct traffic or damage property, said Ray Taseff, an attorney affiliated with the Miami ACLU.

''I really can't see how the city can argue around it,'' Taseff said of the Pottinger settlement. ``The police did the right thing today.''

you can support "take back the land" by signing their online petition.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

what diversity? the nova paradox

last saturday i went to little haiti for a community meeting about the nova situation. as readers of this blog know, the nova administration decided to put UNICCO's contract up for bid when it heard that UNICCO employees had voted to join the SEIU (the official union announcement came a few days after nova announced that the UNICCO contract had been cancelled). since nova did not commit to retaining the current workers, 340 janitors face being out of work as early as the end of the year. needless to say, these are not wealthy people who can easily find another job. their wages hover around $7 an hour and they get no health insurance and no benefits. the vast majority are minorities -- haitians or cubans or african americans. which makes friday night's celebration sad and pathetic: nova president ray ferrero jr. will be honored by the urban league of broward county as ``diversity champion.''

it is always been hard to separate racism from classism, or the discrimination of people based on race from the discrimination of people based on poverty. one, though, would not expect to see appalling reminders of jim crow in one of today's leading academic institutions: at nova, the haitian groundskeepers are not allowed to go inside air-conditioned buildings to drink from cold water fountains. no: they must drink from water hoses that have been sitting in the heat. this fight is not just for wages and security: this is a fight for basic dignity and human rights. this is a fight for the things most of us take absolutely for granted.

at nova last tuesday, democratic gubernatorial candidate jim davis talked to the janitors before debating republican counterpart charlie crist. it is not clear to me why the republican candidate didn't speak to the janitors too. unions are closer to the democratic than to the republican heart, but guaranteeing that people drink from fountains rather than hoses should be a concern that doesn't stop at party lines. mr davis said that when he's governor of the state of florida "you will not have to take to the streets... .we'll get it done." he didn't make clear how exactly he was going to accomplish that, but i'm sure the janitors liked the sound of these words.

in the meantime, we should make sure that nova president ferrero doesn't think we are not paying attention to the discrepancy between his diversity award and haitian janitors drinking from water hoses. give him a call: his phone number is (954) 262 7575.

ana menendez on nova

Posted on Wed, Oct. 25, 2006
In My Opinion

Nova's diversity advocacy halts at service entry

Friday night, Nova Southeastern University President Ray Ferrero Jr. is supposed to be honored by the Urban League of Broward County as a ``Diversity Champion.''

Meanwhile, back on the Davie campus, 340 janitors and gardeners, most of them minorities, will be winding up another work week making around $7 an hour with no health insurance.

Recently, the workers voted to join a union. But a few days before the vote, the university announced it would be ''reevaluating'' its contract with the company that employs the workers, Unicco.

Now the men and women who had looked forward to more dignified treatment instead face the prospect of layoffs during the holiday season.

Nova's commitment to diversity, it would seem, ends at the service entrance.


Dorval Audanois, an immigrant from Haiti, has been tending the greenery at Nova for almost five years. He works from 7 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. and then, after a day in the sun, heads to night school to study English and math. He makes $7.73 an hour and lives next to an auto-repair shop on a dead-end street near Opa-locka Boulevard.

Audanois, 62, has never met President Ferrero, nor does he expect to. But if he did, he knows the first thing he would ask him.

''Is he not a human being like us? If he gets sick, doesn't he have to go to the doctor?'' he said at his home Monday night. ``Just because we are poor, does this mean we do not need the same thing?''

The campaign to organize janitors began at the University of Miami in March.

After janitors walked off the job, UM president Donna Shalala announced a plan to guarantee good wages and healthcare to workers under contract to the university.

The UM janitors finally voted to join a union this summer. A month ago, FIU announced it was bringing its own janitors back home, giving current workers first chance at new jobs that offer living wages and full benefits. At UM, where the fight was more protracted, faculty and students played a crucial role in persuading university administrators to do right by its janitors.

Not so at Nova, where the faculty does not have a union and only law school professors have the option of tenure. Without the security needed to publicly support the aspirations of the janitors, Nova professors have not been in a position to pressure the university.


As a result, Nova, unique among the big three regional universities, now seems poised to betray its most vulnerable workers -- 95 percent of whom are African American, Latino or Haitian, according to the union.

It's a sad irony for a university that has tried to be a leader in attracting and graduating minorities, one of the accomplishments for which Ferrero is to be honored Friday.

The Broward League's dinner to honor Ferrero and three others will take place at Marriott's Harbor Beach Resort and Spa in Fort Lauderdale. The invitation says corporate sponsorships start at $3,500 and individual tickets are $200.

Lisa Barker, who helps coordinate special events at the league, confirmed the award but couldn't offer any more information. Two calls to Nova spokesman David Dawson requesting comment went unanswered.

Last week, Dawson told The Miami Herald's Dani McClain that the university is considering a ''range of options'' that include keeping Unicco.

''A private business has the right to run a private business on behalf of its customers,'' Dawson said. ``Our customers just happen to be students.''

Our customers just happen to be students? Wow. As a university motto, it may not quite reach the heights of UM's ''Magna est veritas'' but at least it gets the point across: Ideals are for paying customers only.

There's a fancy party Friday that proves you need not worry about anyone else.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

protest gubernatorial debate at NOVA on tuesday


The Gubernatorial debate should not be held at Nova Southeastern University, an institution that is on the verge of throwing 350 hardworking janitors, landscapers, maintenance workers, and shuttle bus drivers out of their jobs.

This Tuesday, gubernatorial candidates are set to face off in a debate about Florida's future for its families, working people, and communities.

But at Nova, 350 working families may soon be left destitute as Nova has said it is canceling its contract with UNICCO, the cleaning contractor that employs the workers. Nova refuses to commit to retaining the workers, or making sure the new contractor hires them.

The debate for Florida's highest office should be held at a public venue that respects working people, not a private institution which has denied improving jobs and working conditions for its mostly Latino and Haitian workforce.


Join SEIU Local 11 in a protest at Nova
Tuesday, October 24th


Wednesday, October 18, 2006


Emergency Community Meeting to Defend Working Families
Saturday, October 21
5:00-6:00 p.m.
Emmanuel Haitian Baptiste Church
7321 NE 2nd Ave. Miami

Call Kathy at 786-210-9030 for more information


The Latino and Haitian community in Broward County are facing a major crisis as 350 Latino and Haitian workers could lose their jobs and their families could be left destitute. These 350 janitors, groundskeepers, maintenance staff, and shuttle bus drivers employed by UNICCO at Nova Southeastern University voted for a union last week.Within hours of learning that UNICCO was moving to recognize the union, Nova President Ferrero, rather than support a responsible contractor, notified faculty and staff that he intended to put the contract out to bid. Nova did not commit to retaining the UNICCO employees.

95% of those affected are from immigrant and minority communities, predominantly Haitian, Colombian, Puerto Rican and African-American.


* Janitors at Nova earn wages as low as $6.50 per hour, while living in a county with a $10.15 per hour
living wage commitment.[1]
* They receive no health insurance.
* Unfair and unsafe working conditions; dozens of Nova's Haitian landscapers work outside with no
sheltered break area and no access to drinking water


Broward County has exhibited excellent values and standards of caring for its citizens, as evidenced by the living wage ordinance and the $120,338,790 budgeted for community services[2]; why shouldn't Nova University, a premier Broward institution, uphold the same standards?

- Nova received over $18.4 million in federal, state, and local government funding in 2004[3]. By 2010, Broward County government will have spent $22 million on capital improvements at the Alvin Sherman Library on Nova's campus alone.[4]
- Since 1990, Broward County's population has grown by 22%[5], but the number of people in poverty has grown by 89%[6].


[1] Broward county Office of Professional Standards
[2] Broward County 2007 Budget
[3] IRS Form 990 filed by Nova Southeastern University for year ending July 2004.
[4] Contract agreement between Nova Southeastern University and Broward County for the Alvin Sherman library.
[5] Broward County Planning Services Division 'Population Characteristics' publication. Available online at:
[6] The U.S. Censes poverty figure for Broward county in 1989 was 115,581 people and in 2003 was 217,958 people. This represents a growth of 89% over the ten-yr period. Data available online at

wal-mart workers protest in hialeah gardens

i wish i had known about this. this blog is by liza featherstone, who writes about labor for the nation. also in this blog: starbucks is not a worker's paradise.

Retail Workers Fight Back
by The Nation

Yesterday, more than 200 Wal-Mart workers held a demonstration in front of a Wal-Mart store in Hialeah Gardens, Florida. In the first significant protest ever organized by Wal-Mart employees in the United States, workers objected to managers cutting their hours, and to the company's insistence on employees' "open availability," as well as to a new, more stringent attendance policy. It's courageous of these workers, who are part of a Florida group called "Associates at Wal-Mart," to speak out publicly and demand better treatment. Let's hope their protest is a turning point in the fight for workers' rights at Wal-Mart, and that more workers will be emboldened by the Florida workers' example and begin to organize. Too much of the debate over Wal-Mart takes place without the perspective of the true experts -- the workers themselves.

Speaking of retail workers, the IWW's Starbucks campaign -- which I've mentioned on this blog before -- is growing, and having some encouraging effects. Workers have organized in New York City, and, this summer, Chicago. Last week, the company raised its Chicago workers' wages, increasing starting pay by thirty cents (to $7.80) and promising that if an employee gets a favorable performance review, her pay will go up to $8.58 after six months. New York City workers will make $9.63 an hour after six months on the job (and a favorable review), which means that the IWW campaign will have raised many employees' wages by nearly 25% in two and a half years. The company insists that the raise has nothing to do with the union, but that claim simply isn't credible. As Daniel Gross, who was recently fired for from Starbucks for union organizing, points out, the wage increase "isn't justified by macroeconomic factors, or by any factors other than the union. Real wages for other workers in New York City haven't increased by 25%, or anywhere near that!"

Of course, as Daniel points out, even with the increase, Starbucks workers do not make a living wage. He also stresses that the wage increase needs to be viewed in the context of Starbucks' anti-union campaign: "The company still doesn't recognize the union's right to exist." Starbucks still has a long way to go before the reality behind its counters matches its socially-responsible image.

Friday, October 06, 2006

The War Against Wages

paul krugman on the erosion of labor protection in the US, especially after tuesday's NLRB decision to expand the definition of supervisor (note: this is the same NLRB which is supposed to administer workers' election for form unions, and which the Employee Free Choice Act would protect our workers from by forcing employers to accept majority sign-up, also knows as "card check." it is now heavily stacked with republican, anti-labor appointees):

The War Against Wages

Published: October 6, 2006

Should we be cheering over the fact that the Dow Jones Industrial Average has finally set a new record? No. The Dow is doing well largely because American employers are waging a successful war against wages. Economic growth since early 2000, when the Dow reached its previous peak, hasn't been exceptional. But after-tax corporate profits have more than doubled, because workers' productivity is up, but their wages aren't - and because companies have dealt with rising health insurance premiums by denying insurance to ever more workers.

If you want to see how the war against wages is being fought, and what it's doing to working Americans and their families, consider the latest news from Wal-Mart.

Wal-Mart already has a well-deserved reputation for paying low wages and offering few benefits to its employees; last year, an internal Wal-Mart memo conceded that 46 percent of its workers' children were either on Medicaid or lacked health insurance. Nonetheless, the memo expressed concern that wages and benefits were rising, in part "because we pay an associate more in salary and benefits as his or her tenure increases."

The problem from the company's point of view, then, is that its workers are too loyal; it wants cheap labor that doesn't hang around too long, but not enough workers quit before acquiring the right to higher wages and benefits. Among the policy changes the memo suggested to deal with this problem was a shift to hiring more part-time workers, which "will lower Wal-Mart's health care enrollment."

And the strategy is being put into effect. "Investment analysts and store managers," reports The New York Times, "say Wal-Mart executives have told them the company wants to transform its work force to 40 percent part-time from 20 percent." Another leaked Wal-Mart memo describes a plan to impose wage caps, so that long-term employees won't get raises. And the company is taking other steps to keep workers from staying too long: in some stores, according to workers, "managers have suddenly barred older employees with back or leg problems from sitting on stools."

It's a brutal strategy. Once upon a time a company that treated its workers this badly would have made itself a prime target for union organizers. But Wal-Mart doesn't have to worry about that, because it knows that these days the people who are supposed to enforce labor laws are on the side of the employers, not the workers.

Since 1935, U.S. workers considering whether to join a union have been protected by the National Labor Relations Act, which bars employers from firing workers for engaging in union activities. For a long time the law was effective: workers were reasonably well protected against employer intimidation, and the union movement flourished.

In the 1970's, however, employers began a successful campaign to roll back unions. This campaign depended on routine violation of labor law: experts estimate that by 1980 employers were illegally firing at least one out of every 20 workers who voted for a union. But employers rarely faced serious consequences for their lawbreaking, thanks to America's political shift to the right. And now that the shift to the right has gone even further, political appointees are seeking to remove whatever protection for workers' rights that the labor relations law still provides.

The Republican majority on the National Labor Relations Board, which is responsible for enforcing the law, has just declared that millions of workers who thought they had the right to join unions don't. You see, the act grants that right only to workers who aren't supervisors. And the board, ruling on a case involving nurses, has declared that millions of workers who occasionally give other workers instructions can now be considered supervisors.

As the dissent from the Democrats on the board makes clear, the majority bent over backward, violating the spirit of the law, to reduce workers' bargaining power.

So what's keeping paychecks down? Major employers like Wal-Mart have decided that their interests are best served by treating workers as a disposable commodity, paid as little as possible and encouraged to leave after a year or two. And these employers don't worry that angry workers will respond to their war on wages by forming unions, because they know that government officials, who are supposed to protect workers' rights, will do everything they can to come down on the side of the wage-cutters.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

UNICCO employees at NOVA vote to unionize


Nova Southeastern University janitors OK union representation

Nova Southeastern University janitors will rally today for their newly formed union, although their company's contract with the school may be in jeopardy.


Nova Southeastern University janitors approve union representation

Janitors at Nova Southeastern University voted to create a union Wednesday. But because the university announced last week that it may rebid the janitorial contract, the union fight is far from over.

More than 60 percent of the 350 employees who do janitorial, maintenance and landscape work at the university's main Davie campus said Wednesday they wanted the Service Employees Internation Union to represent them. They are employed by contractor Unicco Services Co.

But NSU President Ray Ferrero said in an open letter Friday the university had begun to reevaluate those contract workers, effectively notifying Unicco it may lose its contract.

Labor experts say SEIU is prepared for another public campaign, similar to the one it waged against University of Miami earlier this year, to bring pressure on NSU to recognize the union, regardless of who the contractor is. If the university decides to fight, it could led to a protracted legal battle because of complex labor laws involved, they say.

After its success at UM, SEIU had been organizing janitors at Florida International University and NSU. FIU said last week it would bring its janitors in house and under its existing American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees union.

''Nova needs to do what other universities have done because it's the right thing to do,'' said SEIU's Stephen Lerner, who heads the union's national Justice for Janitors campaign.

NSU spokesman Dave Dawson said the vote Wednesday was between the workers and Unicco.

''We're still running a business and going to make the best business decisions we can to operate this university on behalf of the students,'' he said, adding the university has just begun to explore whether it would take positions in-house, outsource them or do a combination of the two.

Dawson said he couldn't speak to the timing of why the university had now decided to rebid the contract. ''The timing is what it is,'' he said.

In a statement, Boston-based Unicco said it was prepared to honor the workers' wishes to form a union, adding it was disappointed at NSU's actions to rebid its current contract. But it said it planned to bid again for the work.

NSU has contracted with Unicco to do that work for 12 years. NSU's main campus where those workers are is in Davie. The school also has seven other campuses in Florida and one in Las Vegas.

Given that, SEIU signing an agreement with Unicco is ''no guarantee those workers will keep their jobs at Nova,'' said Cornell University labor relations professor Rick Hurd. ``If Nova decides to bring in another contractor and not abide by the union agreement, it will be up to SEIU to challenge that.''

If the university accepts another contractor other than Unicco and all the old workers apply, NSU has to be careful not to subject itself to discrimination charges for not hiring the workers because they now belong to a union, said Gil Abramson, a partner with Hogan & Hartson in Washington and a former senior counsel to the National Labor Relations Board chairman.

If that happens, said Hurd: ``As you saw with University of Miami, [SEIU leaders] are very effective with their public campaign.''

That campaign continues with an afternoon rally today at a United Methodist church in Davie. SEIU plans to have community leaders and politicians lobby for the janitors.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

FIU does the right thing: a column by ana menendez

things are definitely astir in south florida universities. last week, FIU accepted its janitors' union drive, rescinded its contract with UNICCO, and will rehire the janitors directly. the janitors previously hired by UNICCO will be given precedence over other applicants. they will be unionized with the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees. the SEIU helped greatly in this effort. now it's NOVA's turn to do the right thing...

FIU opts to do the right thing about janitors


In the end, there were some things more important than money. It's going to cost at least $1.8 million more a year but Florida International University is bringing its janitors back home.

As state employees, they'll have access to benefits that until now were beyond their reach and increasingly are the stuff of dreams for many hourly workers: healthcare, vacations and salaries that allow them to live, if not comfortably, at least above the poverty line.

''We needed to take the high road on this. We needed to do what was right,'' said FIU's chief financial officer Vivian Sanchez, who credited university President Modesto Maidique with the call to end 10 years of outsourcing custodial work.

At a time when more and more businesses live in thrall of accountants, FIU's new plan for its janitors shows that doing the right thing sometimes has value beyond the bottom line.

FIU may have been inspired by the protracted and sometimes ugly fight to unionize janitors at the University of Miami. Sanchez acknowledged that they were ''sensitized'' to the issue by the strike at UM and the publicity it generated.

But in contrast to UM, where the faculty last week chastised the administration for its handling of campus protests, FIU met the issue with grace.

It's a move that is no less laudable for being shrewd. FIU is in the midst of a remarkable expansion that is not just remaking the physical campus but also is transforming the university's idea of itself.

In 20 years, FIU has gone from being the scrappy local state school to a leading research and academic institution.

Last week it also became a leader in the push to make South Florida a more humane place to live and work.

''I wish the big companies would follow,'' said Tom Beasley, president of the university chapter of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, the union that will represent the janitors.

''This is a very difficult and expensive town to live in. And these folks, they're making the lowest wages possible while trying to live in this community,'' he said. ``And we need them. We all function together and have responsibilities to each other.''

Miami-Dade's billion-dollar skyline overshadows one of the poorest communities in the country, a city where one in every five people lives below the poverty line. In Florida, more than 3 million people don't have health insurance.

The reasons are many, but one trend that has exacerbated the plight of the working poor is the move to outsource jobs. It saves companies money, but often hurts the most vulnerable workers, stripping them of group health insurance.

Nationwide, most of the 9 million children without health insurance today have at least one parent who works full-time, according to a new report by the group Families USA, which advocates universal health care. In many ways, they were the perfect target of unionizing drives in South Florida: the men and women who scrub the floors and toilets at the highest centers of learning.

Lots of businesses need a good shaming in this town, but few were easier to embarrass than universities that, while raising millions, paid their humblest workers pennies.

After the UM janitors walked out, the story of men and women trying to get by on as little as $6.40 an hour resonated in a place where a middle class feels increasingly embattled.

Now the two largest universities have moved to do right by their janitors; only Nova Southeastern remains. Nova's announcement -- in the middle of a union drive -- that it may rebid its contract with the company that provides custodial services is troubling.

FIU may have acted out of pressure, but the university also spoke its conviction, one that other large businesses should follow: that every working person, no matter their education or job skills, is entitled to fair treatment and respect.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

things not very cool at NOVA


NSU to redo janitor contract

Nova Southeastern University revealed plans to rebid a contract, even as a union drive heats up.


The president of Nova Southeastern University announced that the school will rebid a contract employing janitors and landscapers -- just as about 300 workers are on the verge of declaring they wish to form a union.

In an e-mail titled ''An Open letter from The President'' sent Friday, NSU President Ray Ferrero Jr. said a review ``concluded that some of the operations should be brought in house, and that we should contract with companies who specialize in other components of our operations.''

Ferrero cited janitorial, landscaping and shuttle-bus services as under review. He wrote that the current contractor, Boston-based UNICCO, would be given an opportunity to rebid the contract.

The plan comes as some 300 janitors and landscapers at the Davie university are a few days from announcing that more than 60 percent want to form a union, said Renee Asher, a spokeswoman for the Service Employees International Union. The union successfully organized a similar effort at the University of Miami this year.

Florida International University, part of the state system, announced last week that it would bring janitorial jobs back in house with significant pay raises, health care benefits and union representation.

Asher said the timing of Ferrero's e-mail, sent to a university official and apparently meant to be distributed to employees and students, warranted notice.

''Coincidentally, it came four days before the workers were expected to announce a majority support for the union,'' Asher said.

Mara Kiffin, an NSU spokeswoman, referred questions to David Dawson, executive director of University Relations. Dawson didn't return calls for comment. Ferrero could not be reached.

NSU employs some 330 janitors, landscapers, and maintenance workers, said Eric Brakken, an SEIU organizer. The workers would most likely be required to reapply for their jobs if the positions are brought in-house or if another contractor takes over, said Asher.

In April, The Miami Herald reported that the average wage for NSU's cleaning staff was $7.25 an hour but some workers start at $6.40 an hour. Workers are not offered healthcare coverage, although they can use the school's fee-based clinics.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' most recent guidelines say that a family of four needs to earn at least $20,000 a year, or $9.61 an hour, to be above the poverty level.

Wanda Rodrigues, an NSU custodian for 11 years who is involved in the union drive, said she viewed the move as an attempt to bust union organizing.

''Mr. Ferrero doesn't want the union,'' said Rodrigues, a 44-year-old Hollywood mother of two who makes $7.69 an hour. ``It's the best way for him to get rid of the workers in a legal way, a nice way.''

Earlier this year Ferrero wrote a letter indicating that the university wouldn't take a position on whether the janitors should unionize.

Once workers announce that a majority intend to form a union, they typically hold an election in order to be recognized.

The UNICCO contract reconsideration follows janitor organizing efforts at other South Florida universities. The University of Miami janitors approved a contract earlier this year following a high-profile campaign by SEIU that included walk outs and sit-ins.

FIU avoided such turmoil last week by unveiling a plan that aims to bring janitorial jobs back in house at pay increases of almost 50 percent plus health care. The janitors will join the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, which represents hundreds of FIU workers.

In April, NSU janitors engaged in a walkout for a couple of days to protest what they called unfair labor practices at the school.

In his e-mail, Ferrero wrote that ''significant consideration'' will be given to how UNICCO workers ``carry out their obligations to the university during the process.''

Asher was circumspect: ``We would hope that it's not an attempt to threaten workers from engaging in lawful union activity.''

Renee Asher SEIU Communications 202-255-4251

Saturday, August 26, 2006

fresh breeze of change at FIU

FIU to Negotiate Health Insurance Plan for Adjunct Faculty, Temporary and Contract Workers

MIAMI--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Aug. 24, 2006--Today Florida International University announced a challenge to health insurance companies: Design a plan that covers hundreds of temporary employees and contract workers who currently do not have access to affordable health care.

This innovative plan, which is the latest in a series of progressive human resources initiatives adopted in recent months, would need to carry an affordable price tag for the insured and be portable. The Invitation to Negotiate (ITN) is open to all insurance companies doing business in Florida.

"We hope to serve as the conduit that would enable our employees and the employees of our small business partners access to affordable health care through group rates," said Senior Vice President Vivian Sanchez. "The idea is to structure plans and negotiate rates which individuals or small companies could not otherwise afford."

The university would then give more than 2,000 individuals direct access to these deals. Some of the potential beneficiaries are adjunct faculty members and other temporary/part-time employees of the university (sometimes referred to as OPS) who are not covered by regular university benefits. Others work at FIU as janitors, grounds keepers, bus drivers, and security personnel but who don't have access to health care plans because they are not FIU employees, but rather are employed by university contractors who often do not offer health benefits.

Sanchez said the idea builds on innovative plans already in place at other institutions but would, for the first time, be available to contractors. The plan is expected to be in place by January of 2007.

"This plan has great potential for success because it addresses the needs of the temporary employees and contracted workers while working within the public university's fiscal limitations," said Sanchez, who also serves as the university's CFO.

"I'm proud of this move," said Faculty Senate Chair Bruce Hauptli. "We are taking the lead here as we endeavor to become known as an 'employer of choice' concerned with the well-being of all our employees and with those who work on our campuses and enrich our community."

Three years ago, the state granted its universities the authority to negotiate contracts, determine employee benefits and establish terms and conditions of employment. This process, typically referred to as devolution, set in motion a series of changes, including new human resources practices. Since that process started, many employees have gained benefits, better working conditions and higher pay. Also as part of this process, long-term FIU employees are being offered the opportunity to convert from temporary to permanent employment with full benefits. A plan is being developed for this transition.

FIU employees enjoy human resources policies that have been recognized for Progressive Workplace Innovations at the national level by the College and University Professional Association for Human Resources. In addition to traditional benefits such as paid leave, life insurance and retirement plans, FIU Employees have employee and family tuition waivers, paid personal development and flex-time and flex-place options.

"Our philosophy is to afford the entire FIU family the best possible working conditions," said FIU President Modesto A. Maidique. "Our Board of Trustees has clearly encouraged us to put in place contemporary, progressive measures in all areas of the institution. These actions get us closer to that goal."

For more information on the ITN visit

Florida International University, Miami
Maydel Santana-Bravo, 305-348-1555
At A Glance
Florida International University
Source: via Business Wire
Updated 03/24/2004 by company
Headquarters: Miami, Florida
CEO: Modesto Maidique
Employees: 4,000
Organization: University

Thursday, August 24, 2006

30% wage increase for UM janitors

a really good story by niala boodhoo in today's herald on yesterday's ratification of the contract by UNICCO employees. and here is the herald's summary of the new contract.


(pictures courtesy of Daniel Correa)

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

the contract we fought for has been ratified!

Today at lunchtime, a joyous final chapter was written to the yearlong struggle for a union contract by the UNICCO workers at UM. President of the SEUI Local 11 Rob Schuler explained to a packed Episcopal Church the details of the contract hammered out by UNICCO, the union and the bargaining team of workers. In brief, these are the highlights:

Wages: $0.25 per hour raise on Sep 1, 2006
$0.40 Sep 1, 2007
$0.50 Sep 1, 2008
$0.50 Sep 1, 2009

Health Insurance: any increases in the premium up to 10% to be absorbed by UNICCO. Increases beyond that will trigger a committee to investigate further ways of reducing costs

Personal Days: Increase from 2 to 3 paid personal days

Vacations: 1 year - 1 week
5 years - 2 weeks
10 years - 3 weeks

Holidays: Three extra paid holidays: Christmas Eve, New Year's Eve and the day after Thanksgiving

Funeral Leave: 3 paid days

Seniority: Workers with more years get more benefits

Safety: A committee of workers and management will meet every month to address any safety issues

Union Rights: The union will have the right to post materials, to speak to new hires and to investigate abuses on job time

Immigration: Workers will be allowed time off to deal with immigration issues

Job Security: Basic structures will be put in place to deal with harassment, favoritism and improper dismissal

The workers voted to ratify the contract with great enthusiasm. The energy was amazing and the workers certainly felt they had scored a great victory. As one of them, Julio Ramos, said before the vote, hopefully their job would become one that can lead them out of poverty instead of keeping them in it.

new contract to be voted on today

in today's miami herald:

UM janitors to vote on union today


University of Miami janitors will vote this afternoon to approve the first union contract with the private school, the Service Employees International Union said.

SEIU said it had reached a tentative agreement with contractor UNICCO Services Company on a new employee contract for the UM workers.

Some janitors held a months-long strike at the university last spring in protest over the right to organize. After nine weeks of the walkout and protests from some students, faculty and clergy -- including a hunger strike -- the university, Unicco and the union reached an agreement in May on how the workers could vote for a union.

A majority of the janitors voted for the union earlier this summer, and negotiations on the contract began soon after.

The vote will be at 1 p.m. today, SEIU said.

Just before the strike began, UM announced it would raise wages for the workers by at least 25 percent.

Details of the contract were not provided, although the union said the tentative agreement provided for higher wages, more vacation time and better healthcare coverage for the 400 workers.

Emboldened by its success at UM, union activists have started organizing campaigns at Nova Southeastern and Florida International Universities.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

welcome back UM!

it's a grey and rainy day in miami, but it's okay, because our beautiful lawns and beautiful trees need the water -- not that they wouldn't be getting it if it weren't raining, mind you, but this way, hopefully, the university will turn off the sprinklers and let nature take care of itself!

as you admire our spiffed up campus, please keep in mind the men and women who've been putting in a lot of underpaid overtime in the last few weeks to make it look its very best for the beginning of the new year.

now that our UNICCO workers are finally unionized (even these many months later, i cannot write these words without a tinge of disbelief and awe), new contract negotiations are under way. they are taking place as i type. i'll keep you informed.

on a more somber note, i'd like to remember here the mother of pablo rodriguez, one of the ten workers who went on a hunger strike last spring. a couple of weeks ago julia felt ill during a very long shift in 95 degree temperatures. he coworkers had told her to go home or at least take a break, drink some water. but she's always been that way, the hardworking type. she died at the hospital two days later. some of you may remember her: she came to freedom village late in the evening, to spend the night with pablo. pablo's hunger strike was, in large measure, for her: he had already lost his UNICCO job when he started it. our hearts go out to pablo and his family.

and just when you thought the student saga was over, with all of the students accepting the university's handing down of probation, community service (!), and some writing exercises, well, no, it isn't over. last thurday brian lemmerman, a STAND student, sued the university of miami:

A contract lawsuit filed Thursday in Miami-Dade Circuit Court accuses the University of Miami of unfairly disciplining a student who peacefully demonstrated against the school’s labor policies during a union drive by its janitors.

The suit, filed by Miami attorneys Lida Rodriguez and Kenneth Kukec, alleges that UM officials railroaded their client, Brian Lemmerman, by flouting the school’s disciplinary procedures and ignoring conflicts of interest. Kukec and Rodriguez claim that UM’s actions constitute a breach of contract.

(read the full article from the daily business review in the first comment).
in the miami herald, ana mendendez wrote a scathing piece on the lawsuit and its significance.

even the students who settled are not happy. like many of us, they feel that the proceedings cast a dangerous precedent on freedom of speech on campus. jane connolly, STAND's faculty advisor, has written two impassioned letters about two students whose hearings she was personally involved with. i'm reprinting both of them in full:

august 18:
Dear Colleagues,

I met this morning with Katharine Westaway, a graduate student who has been subjected to disciplinary action by the administration. She shared with me her concerns about the status of free speech for students on campus and the significance of this summer's disciplinary actions for students in the future. With Ms Westaway's permission, I share with you her experiences and concerns.

Ms Westaway, an MA student in English, is a senator in the Graduate Student Association. A week before receiving her summons, she was informed by James Fatzinger, Assistant Dean of Students, that she had been selected to serve on the honor council. (Does anyone besides Ms Westaway and me find this appointment ironic, given that she would soon face disciplinary charges at the time and that Mr. Fatzinger would subsequently serve as the judge for her hearing?) Since she would be away from campus for the entire summer and traveling for a portion of it, Ms. Westaway requested that her hearing be postponed until the fall. In this way, she could attend, present witnesses and be judged by a jury of her peers. As with all such requests, she was denied. On 29 June, while attending a program at Johns Hopkins, Ms Westaway participated in a "hearing" telephonically. I use quotation marks as it is clear that very little was actually *heard* by the administration in this or any other case.

Although she was asked if she wished to present witnesses, Ms Westaway wondered just how she would do this in the middle of summer when everyone had scattered and she herself wasn't present. The hearing was presided by Mr. Fatzinger who had also been present at the events where Ms Westaway's alleged violations occurred. Indeed, Mr. Fatzinger took photos of Ms Westaway in front of Ashe that she was asked to identify during her proceeding, as can be seen in a window reflection of Mr. Fatzinger seen in one of these photos. Can anyone say "conflict of interest"? (BTW: in all the photos, Ms Westaway is seated on the ground reading with tape over her mouth. How disorderly and disruptive is that?) The administration's case was presented by Gregory Singleton, Associate Dean of Students and therefore of higher rank than Mr. Fatzinger. It seems odd to have the judge have less power than the prosecutor/investigator, no? The hearing lasted about 45 mins. with a guilty verdict given immediately at the conclusion. Nothing like thoughtful reflection. Ms Westaway's punishment: 2 semesters of probation, 10 hrs. of community service, and a 500-word reflection. The relatively low number of hours of community service was because Mr. Singleton had only seen her in front of Ashe on one day. So, the prosecutor decides the severity of the punishment based on his own eyewitness experience? Again, can anyone say "conflict of interest"? Ms Westaway learned this week in an email from Mr. Singleton that she was late in completing the community service and the reflection. According to the email I saw, he said he sent a letter to her "about July 7" which informed her that the deadline for completion was 29 July. Mind you, he had been told that she was traveling for most of the summer, yet somehow expected her to receive this letter (which she still has not received) and
complete two-thirds of her punishment in three weeks.

Ms Westaway felt that she had virtually no rights in facing these disciplinary proceedings. She was not given a real opportunity to present her case with witnesses before her peers, nor could she have counsel (legal or academic) present to aid her. Quite simply, she was not accorded an impartial, democratic process. She is gravely concerned, as am I, that these hearings will set precedents for future disciplinary actions and that students will routinely be accorded no rights. She asks that we work to prevent this, for the sake of free speech and student rights.


Jane Connolly

august 21

Dear Colleagues,

On 7 July, a "hearing" was held for the disciplinary charges against Alyssa Cundari, a first-year student. With Ms Cundari's permission, I share with you some details from that hearing.

Dayle Wilson, Assistant Dean of Students, presided the case which Gregory Singleton, Associate Dean of Students, investigated and prosecuted. (I have already commented on this uneven power structure elsewhere.) The two witnesses for the prosecution were Richard Walker, Assistant Vice President for Student Affairs, and Keith Fletcher, Director of Butler Volunteer Services. The judge, investigator/prosecutor and two witnesses are all under the Student Affairs umbrella. Ms Cundari presented as witnesses two professors (Frank Palmeri and me) and a graduate student (Shelly Stromoski). I leave it to Dr. Palmeri and Ms Stromoski to tell you of their experiences, if the choose. I will share mine as they supplement Ms. Westaway's experience.

As with other students, Ms Cundari was not allowed to have her hearing postponed until the fall. She returned to Miami the day before the hearing to present her case, finding what witnesses she could in July. I was very impressed with Ms Cundari's composure, maturity and determination against the odds. In response to her questions, I attested to the following:

1. The students all behaved in an orderly fashion. It's hard to call a group of students disorderly when they stand with tape over their mouths and hum "We Shall Overcome," pray, or sit reading books on poverty. I noted that I grew up in Oakland in the 60s, during the rise of the Black Panthers and the Free Speech/Anti War movements, attended Berkeley as an undergraduate and taught at Wisconsin-Madison. I've seen disorderly conduct, and our students were always peaceful, orderly and respectful.

2. The students did not block access to Ashe. Following the initial demonstration, which Charles Steele and many clergy attended, they always made sure that doors were accessible. The administration took the decision to lock those doors, and thus obstructed access. I also witnessed the students helping people (students trying to get advising before registration, potential students and parents, etc.) find their way into Ashe since the administration simply locked the doors and provided no assistance to those wishing to enter to do business there.

3. As an administrator in Ashe at the time of Ms Cundari's alleged misconduct, I attested to the fact that the only complaints I received regarding access and disorderly conduct related to the administration. Faculty were especially disturbed by the way they were treated by security personnel, students found it difficult to get in to see advisors, and everyone (including the cops I spoke to) found the decision to turn on the sprinklers absurd. Indeed, the students were going to move from the entry of Ashe to the lawn until the sprinklers came on and eliminated that possibility.

4. Ms Cundari presented photographs of herself, asking me to identify what she was doing: she was sitting in front of Ashe reading. I further testified that I had seen her on other occasions studying for a Chemistry exam. I don't think that reading and studying are considered disorderly activities on most campuses.

5. I was present when Dean Sandler delivered many of his warnings. He simply told the students that they had to leave, but never said that a warning was final, never gave a deadline, never stated possible consequences. In other words, he never said: "If you do not leave by X hour, the following disciplinary charges will be brought." From my point of view, this was a mistake. I know from my discussions with students during the events in question that they were prepared to leave if they were given a final warning, something that Ms Westaway reconfirmed in my discussion with her last week. They simply weren't given that warning.

Mr. Singleton asked me only two questions. The first was about my familiarity with the students' rights and responsibilities handbook. Yes, and I'm appalled by the way it's being construed. (OK, I only said yes, not wanting to prejudice Ms Cundari's case.) The second was how familiar I was with the office of the Dean of Students and whether I had found that office to be fair in the past. I noted that I have been involved with issues ranging from academic dishonesty to inappropriate conduct, and had dealt almost exclusively with Dean Sandler, whom I always found to be fair. I had little experience with the other members of the office and therefore could not judge their fairness. He asked me no questions about Ms Cundari's conduct.

The independent testimony of two professors and a student did little to persuade Ms Wilson or Mr. Singleton. As in the case of Ms Westaway, Ms Cundari was found guilty at the conclusion of the hearing, with the same punishments as Ms Westaway. I have little doubt that the findings in both cases were predetermined. Do we really want students to be subjected to pro forma justice? If we tolerate this, who will be next?


Jane Connolly

Friday, July 14, 2006

dear colleagues

our colleague jane connolly recently sent this letter to the UM faculty as a commentary on the administration "response" to our letter of june 27. we endorse its content and share in jane's indignation.

Dear Colleagues,

On June 27, 110 faculty submitted a letter in support of our students to Patricia Whitely, Vice President of Student Affairs, and William Sandler, Dean of Students, with copies to President Shalala and Provost LeBlanc. This letter was also posted on and released to the local press. The Daily Business Review published the letter and offered the UM administration the opportunity to respond. Although the faculty were not given the courtesy of the acknowledgement of the letter, much less a response to its content, the administration did provide a response to DBR as follows:

To the Editor:

While we respect the views expressed by our faculty, it is unfortunate that these particular faculty members have chosen to publicize private, protected information about University of Miami students.

Because the university's principal concern is the well-being of its students, which includes maintaining confidentiality of disciplinary proceedings, it declines the opportunity to discuss the specifics of this matters.

It is worth noting, however, that the faculty letter contains many factual inaccuracies and mischaracterizations with regard to the events to date and is co-signed by only 110 members of the 2,600 faculty body.

The university's actions in this matter have been supported by a number of broad constituencies, including faculty, students, and alumni. The university continues to strongly believe that the students have been treated fairly, responsibly and in accord with its Student Rights and Responsibilities handbook.

University of Miami

The letter makes a number of false claims which must be addressed.

1. The purported signatory of the letter is "University of Miami." It is odd that anyone in the administration believes that s/he is the "University of Miami." The closing sentence also reveals that the author believes that s/he speaks for the entire university: "The university continues to strongly believe that the students have been treated fairly, responsibly and in accord with its Student Rights and Responsibilities handbook." This is, quite simply, not the case. The university is comprised of its students, faculty, staff, administrators and alumni. Minimally, the 110 faculty who signed the letter and scores of students who have been accused or who support the accused do not believe that the students have been treated fairly. Conversations with a large number of staff and some administrators, both vulnerable entities in this context, show that they do not share this view. Nor does any of the alumni we have spoken to. The 110 faculty signatories did not claim to be the University of Miami, and we ask in the future that the administration refrain from such misleading statements.

2. The administration asserts that the release of this letter to the press violates "private, protected information" about the students. This claim is sheer nonsense. Since no student's identity was revealed, no confidentiality was infringed. In addition, the students themselves have spoken directly to the press about the charges and proceedings. They have also authorized some of the signatories to do so, as well as saying that information, including their identities, may be posted on picketline. The administration's claim of a violation of confidentiality by faculty is the height of hypocrisy, given that the administration violated the students' right to privacy (and hence, the Buckley amendment) by delivering summonses to some students in class, in front of their colleagues and faculty.

3. The administration claims that the letter contains "factual inaccuracies and mischaracterizations" but declines to indicate any of these. We stand behind the statements in the letter, which are based on information provided by the accused students and their lawyers (some of whom are UM faculty), our own discussions with UM administrators, and our own eyewitness experience of the events.

4. The administration's declaration that "The university's actions in this matter have been supported by a number of broad constituencies, including faculty, students, and alumni" is bogus. While some from each group *may* have supported the administration's actions during the strike, very few in any of these groups even *know* of the administration's actions with regard to disciplining the students, most especially because these actions are being taken in the summer when faculty and students are largely absent from campus. This, in fact, is a large part of the complaint of the accused students and the faculty signatories: the administration has refused to postpone the proceedings until the fall when the students could have a fair hearing before a panel including students and with student and faculty witnesses and faculty advisors to support their cases.

5. The administration shows no respect for the signatories, who are "only 110 members of the 2,600 faculty body." Only? The fact that as many as 110 faculty signed the letter in the middle of the summer is astonishing. Either the author of the letter wishes to denigrate the 110 signatories or, as an administrator, doesn't realize how astonishing it is that 110 faculty could even be found in the middle of the summer to consider signing a letter. It is also worth noting that, unlike the administration, we have no means to communicate with all faculty across the campuses. We can only communicate to that portion of the faculty (fewer than 600) who are members of this list.


Jane Connolly
Professor of Spanish

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Check out this piece by Mary Beth Maxwell, from American Rights at Work. The piece appears in Political Affairs.

U.S. Labor Law is Broken

If you ask most people in America why there are fewer members of unions, they have ready answers. They think it’s because of technology or because manufacturing jobs have left or it’s due to globalization and changes in the economy. They agree how important unions were in the old days, but wonder if maybe they just don’t fit anymore—maybe that’s why fewer workers have unions today. There are three answers to that question that most people in America don’t know—and need to know—that explain why so few workers have unions.

The first is that employer interference with workers making a choice about a union is completely off the charts. At American Rights at Work, we crunched the government’s own numbers from the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) and demonstrated that literally every 23 minutes in the United States—in the United States of America—someone is illegally discriminated against or fired for trying to exercise their rights at work. That’s really an outrage in a democracy. There is a level of lawlessness in the U.S. workplace in terms of firings and surveillance and intimidation that I think would stun most people if they knew about it. We commissioned a report from the University of Illinois at Chicago that found 30 percent of employers fire somebody illegally during organizing campaigns. Further, 49 percent of employers threatened to shut down the worksite if people were to vote for forming a union, and 82 percent of those employers actually hire high-priced union-busting consultants to coach them in how to defeat those campaigns.

Second, most people in America have no idea that union-busting is a massive, for-profit industry—it’s simply not “some workers want a union and some don’t.” Workers are up against hired guns, coaching managers and middle-managers and co-workers on how to defeat a union organizing campaign. [cont'd]

Friday, June 30, 2006

The administration's "response" to the faculty letter

Since it looks like the UM administration prefers to publish its response to the faculty letter in a newspaper rather than responding directly to the faculty, we trekked to Barnes & Noble and bought a copy of the Daily Business Review. Here is the administration's response:
To the Editor:

While we respect the views expressed by our faculty, it is unfortunate that these particular faculty members have chosen to publicize private, protected information about University of Miami students.

Because the university's principal concern is the well-being of its students, which includes maintaining confidentiality of disciplinary proceedings, it declines the opportunity to discuss the specifics of this matters.

It is worth noting, however, that the faculty letter contains many factual inaccuracies and mischaracterizations with regard to the events to date and is co-signed by only 110 members of the 2,600 faculty body.

The university's actions in this matter have been supported by a number of broad constituencies, including faculty, students, and alumni. The university continues to strongly believe that the students have been treated fairly, responsibly and in accord with its Student Rights and Responsibilities handbook.

University of Miami
The Daily Business Review is available online, but you need a subscription to read its content. To find a place near you where the Review is sold, click here. If you have comments and suggestions, click the "comment" link at the bottom of this post, then click "other", write whatever name you want to go by, ignore the webpage space, and write your heart out.

Faculty's letter to the UM Administration printed in today's Daily Business Review

The UM faculty's letter to the administration, protesting the latter's treatment of the students being disciplined for their role in supporting the janitors, appears in the Daily Business Review, along with a response from the administration. Unfortunately, you have to be a paid subscriber to read these, so unless the administration actually replies to the letter we sent them, we won't know what they're thinking. (If you haven't already, you can read the faculty letter here.)

Thanks to the Daily Business Review for providing the space for this debate.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Post by Michael Froomkin

We should have posted a link to this interesting comment on the student discipline situation earlier. It is from the blog, written by our colleague Michael Froomkin (UM, Law).

The Bush NLRB

An excellent post from Common Dreams about worrying goings-on at the NLRB:

Help Labor Stop Bush NLRB Assault on Workers' Rights
by Stewart Acuff and Sheldon Friedman

The last thing America's workers need is another economic kick in the groin, but the Bush labor board may soon deliver what could be its lowest blow yet. The Bush National Labor Relations Board is easily the most anti-worker labor board in history and has lost few opportunities to turn back the clock on workers' rights, but even against this sorry backdrop, the scope of what they now are contemplating is breathtaking.

In a series of pending cases known as Kentucky River, the Bush board could strip what remains of federal labor law protections from hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of workers whose jobs include even minor, incidental or occasional supervisory duties. The pending cases involve charge nurses in a hospital and a nursing home and lead workers in a manufacturing plant, but these workers could be just the tip of the iceberg.

The AFL-CIO and its affiliates will not stand idly by in the face of this unfolding workers' rights atrocity. We have declared a national week of action starting July 10 to protest against the Bush labor board at NLRB headquarters in Washington and at regional NLRB offices and other sites around the country. Members of Congress have been asked to urge the NLRB to permit oral arguments by workers who will be adversely affected by the pending decisions. This is the least the board can do before ruling in a matter of such importance, but so far Bush-appointed Chairman Battista shows every indication that he will deny even this modest request to allow these workers to be heard. [cont'd]

Letter Concerning Student Disciplining from UM Faculty to Administration

Today, the following letter was sent to Vice-President Whitely and Dean Sandler, signed by 110 UM faculty members (names posted in the first comment).

Dear Vice President Whitely and Dean Sandler,

It is with a mixture of indignation, sadness, embarrassment and weariness that we find ourselves forced to write another letter to advocate for justice at the University of Miami.

In the course of the last few months, our students have shown an array of human and civic virtues that one does not see often these days. Through peaceful and respectful demonstrations and with minimal disruption to campus life, they supported the fight for justice and dignity of people they barely knew. Anyone who has spent any time with these young people knows that they are gentle and respectful, that they care deeply about their academic careers, and that they have a keen sense of justice. These are qualities we all unequivocally encourage in our students. As former President Tad Foote told one professor, there was something noble in what these students did and he was proud of them. We agree.

The university administration has responded to the students’ actions on behalf of the janitors and groundskeepers first with harshness, and now with underhanded and petty strategies aimed at thwarting their right to an unbiased and fair hearing. We find this behavior deeply reprehensible and unacceptable at a university. A university is first and foremost about its students. These are our students. These are the people to whom we dedicate the largest part of our professional lives. These young people are the raison d’etre of what we do as faculty, staff, and administrators of this university.

The administration has used some deplorable tactics with the students. They served summonses to them in class, a violation of federal law (the Buckley amendment guarantees a student’s privacy) and of faculty rights as well as a disruption of the academic mission. They called students to "preliminary hearings" about potential serious charges, leaving the possibility of these charges hanging over them through commencement. They also were told that they had an "administrative stop" placed on their registration (in the middle of registration period) and they would have to see Associate Dean Singleton to register for classes. He is not an academic dean. He is their prosecutor and ought not to have anything to do with their registration. Along with the students and their lawyers, we see all of this as intimidation, something that should never take place at a university.

We deeply regret that these students have been targeted for disciplinary action for acting on the principles we teach regarding democracy and social justice. As currently implemented, the process by which they are being judged is profoundly flawed and characterized by arbitrary and unfair decisions. Specifically:

1) Students who pleaded not guilty were denied postponement of their hearings to the Fall, at which time they would appear before a University Disciplinary Hearing Panel including their peers. Instead, Associate Dean Singleton, who is a witness in some of the cases, now serves simultaneously as investigator, prosecutor, judge and jury. There are clearly multiple conflicts of interest here, and the students cannot possibly have an impartial hearing. Moreover, by holding the hearings in the summer, the students are deprived of valued advisors and witnesses to support their cases who are out of town. The first summonses were delivered on 21 April, which allowed sufficient time for hearings to take place with a full panel to adjudicate the cases and with supporting witnesses and advisors still on campus. This was not done, however, because the Dean of Students granted his own office a continuance to do additional investigation. How is it possible that the Dean of Students grant one side a continuance to be able to present its best case but not the other? The cards are clearly and purposefully stacked against the students and they cannot possibly have a fair hearing in these circumstances.

2) Some students have now seen added to their previous charges the further charge of unauthorized distribution of printed material. The violation cited from Students’ Rights and Responsibilities Handbook is B.16, which references the Poster Distribution and Advertising policy on p. 47. The policy refers specifically to advertising, and requires the approval of the Vice President for Business Services. The materials distributed by the students were not advertisements but statements relating to social justice. They were acts of free speech and therefore not covered by any advertising policy.

3) The students who pleaded guilty or no contest to the charges brought against them were given absurd and even insulting penalties, including community service. They are being punished precisely because they did hundreds of hours of community service to improve the University and South Florida’s communities by assuring that workers at UM have freedom of choice, the right to work with dignity and respect, and to earn a living wage. Moreover, these students regularly do other community service, working at clinics and homeless shelters, for various environmental and civic groups, etc. And now you are going to punish them by making them do such work? How inappropriate! Adding to this absurdity, students who have graduated or will graduate this summer or fall have been given two semesters of probation. When asked how this affects them, Associate Dean Singleton told these students that this punishment means nothing for them. Then why give it, except to be vindictive? Finally, two students have been singled out for a particularly spiteful punishment: the loss of campus housing in the fall at University Village.
We ask that all students who have been charged with offenses in relation to their peaceful and respectful protests during the janitors’ and groundskeepers’ strike be granted amnesty. We need to be a model of openness and dialogue, a beacon for the free exchange of ideas and true learning. To punish these students is to undercut these fundamental goals.