February 23, 2006 Statement from University of Miami
President Donna E. Shalala
New Work Group Formed to Study
Compensation and Benefits for Employees of Outside Contractors
It is in keeping with the mission and character of the University of Miami that we be responsive to questions raised by our constituents regarding the compensation and benefits of employees of outside contractors working on the University’s campuses.
Over the past eight months, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) has been trying to organize contract employees who work for UNICCO, an outside contractor that provides cleaning and landscaping services for the University. The University has taken a position of neutrality in this campaign, believing that UNICCO employees are the ones who should make the choice concerning presentation, pursuant to procedures established under Federal labor laws. Because changes in wages and benefits during an organizing campaign can be unlawful if motivated by union considerations, the University has, to date, remained silent on those issues.
The University has a responsibility and an obligation to be responsive to its community, however, and it is increasingly apparent that we need to address questions regarding compensation and benefits offered by University contractors to their contract employees. We feel we must be responsive to the many valued members of our University family who have expressed concern on behalf of employees of outside contractors who work on our campuses. We have heard from virtually every constituent group in our University community, including students, faculty, staff, alumni, trustees, donors, civic leaders, the clergy, elected officials, and the SEIU, all of whom have called for — even demanded on occasion — an increase in resources from the University for employees of outside contractors.
Independent of any decisions that may be made by the parties involved in the organizing activity, the University of Miami is compelled to be more responsive to its constituents, a move consistent with the University's tradition of maintaining clear and open communications. We simply cannot remain quiet or idle when our integrity is being called into question by the very people we hold dearest. We owe them a substantive response. The University is fully aware of its role in continuing to provide a good work environment not only for its own employees but also for employees of outside contractors working on its campuses. Therefore, I am establishing a work group charged with conducting a thorough review of compensation and benefits accorded to all contract employees working on our campuses.
The work group comprises Dr. Roosevelt Thomas, Jr., vice president for human resources, and Sergio Rodriguez, vice president for real estate, who now has new responsibilities that include facilities management. Dr. Laura M. Giuliano, an assistant professor of economics in the School of Business who specializes in labor market outcomes and labor/management relations, will serve in an advisory role to the work group.
The work group’s focus will be to gather and analyze pertinent data regarding wages, health care benefits, recruitment, retention, current and future University needs, and market rates for comparable positions. Its final product will be the basis for a plan of action for the future. The work group is expected to provide me with a report within the next 30 days.
You may recall that we responded to similar concerns expressed by the University community by creating the Contract Employee Enrichment Program in 2003. The initiative, which has met with tremendous success and has grown each year since its inception, includes both an education component and a health assessment/awareness component designed to increase access to quality health care. The program, unique among institutions of higher learning, is a benefit offered to all workers who are employed by UM contractors and who work a minimum of 30 hours per week. The contract employees may take classes and attend health fairs during working hours and at full pay. Additionally, they receive paid personal days, which may be used for sick leave or other personal needs.
We appreciate the close ties we enjoy with all members of our University family. The establishment of the work group is in keeping with our ongoing commitment to address the concerns of our community. Anyone wishing to provide input may e-mail or call 305-284-4133.
Responses from the community were less than enthusiastic.
Reaction to Statement by Donna Shalala.
Janitors at the University of Miami today welcomed the news that the University has acknowledged that they have a role to play in the effort to improve the lives of workers on campus.
Janitors at the campus are poised to vote to authorize a strike on Sunday. “I feel good about what President Shalala said. But it only happened because we were working to form a union. But we can not stop our campaign until UNICCO stops retaliating against us when we stand up for ourselves,” said Maritza Paz who cleans the athletic field.
This is the second time in 5 years that the University has formed a committee to address the wages and benefits of contract employees.
“I was here the first time the University formed a committee to talk about our wages. I was making barely over minimum wage then, and I still am now,” said Nelson Hernandez who has worked at the University for 25 years and earns only $6.80 an hour. “I look forward to working with the committee and the union to make this real.”
Over the past few months janitors on campus have engaged in a campaign to form a union in order to secure living wages and affordable health insurance. Religious leaders, politicians, students, faculty and community leaders have all supported the janitors and their campaign.
“UNICCO must stop firing workers, stop poisoning and injuring workers and let janitors form a union of their choice without fear of retaliation.” said SEIU Local 11 President Rob Schuler.
STAND (the student organization that supports the strike):
Student Response to the University of Miami’s formation of a work group to investigate the pay of University employees.
Recently, a statement was released by President Shalala of the University of Miami stating that they will investigate the pay and benefits to the employees of its contracting companies. Janitorial and maintenance employees receive the second worst pay in the nation, according to a study conducted by the Chronicle of Higher Learning in 2001.
After a great deal of pressure from the university community, we appreciate that president Shalala has recognized that UM employees can not live off of prestige alone. However, the measures taken are far from adequate.
The reality is that a committee was already formed in 2001 to nvestigate the issue. The report called for the immediate implementation of a living wage for all workers. It further stated "Contracting companies who pay sub-poverty wages to literally hundreds of workers is fundamentally incompatible with the responsibilities of good citizenship".
President Shalala has had five years to address this issue. The current response to a public outcry over poverty-wages is woefully inadequate. The committee, comprised of three individuals (two administrators and one professor) is hardly representative the "university family" to which it is in response to. Not one of the professors from the faculty senate report from 2002 are present in this committee. There is no point in forming committees that consist of people who will not be effected by the decisions made in it.
The formation of a committee that has nothing to do with the community involved is a common tactic in such living wage campaigns. As students, we do not appreciate a committee meant to placate a serious attempt at dialogue with the administration.
Students, workers and the faculty must be involved for this to be considered a serious attempt at resolving the human suffering that occurs as the result of the universities business practices. Currently none of these community interests are represented. What is represented is the administrations interests, which for the last five years have not been the five hundred workers living below the federal poverty line.
Students would like to see a responsible decision making process that allows for students, workers and the faculty who already were part of the living wage report in 2001 to be included. To not include such people is indicative of the fact that the university has still not taken the issue seriously.
contact: Jacob Coker-Dukowitz
Dear President Shalala and Provost LeBlanc:
Below is a response from 40 members of the University faculty to yesterday's statement regarding the working group on compensation and benefits for contract workers.
We circulated this statement late this morning to colleagues who had previously expressed concern about the University's contracting policies, and over the course of the next several days we expect to be receiving more signatures from faculty, students, alums, and other members of the University community. We've asked them to write us instead of you, in order to avoid spamming your inboxes, and we will forward the additional names as the list of signers grows.
Sincerely, Michael Fischl
* * * * *
Our Response to the “Working Group” Initiative
We are heartened by President Shalala’s decision to establish a working group to study the compensation and benefits issues facing the many contract employees who work on UM’s campuses. If this initiative indeed signals a genuine willingness on the Administration’s part to rethink longstanding policies that encourage outside firms to compete for UM’s contracts by paying poverty-level wages, then we applaud the change of heart and thank the President for responding in such a constructive manner to the many UM constituencies that have spoken up for the workers who make life and learning on this campus possible.
But we would have to ignore a lot of history – some of it ancient, some of it quite recent – not to sound a note of caution to those who think the UNICCO workers’ struggle for workplace justice is over. For one thing, the target of the strike vote scheduled for this weekend is the unfair labor practices alleged against UNICCO by the National Labor Relations Board, which has charged the firm with unlawfully interrogating workers about their union support; prohibiting them from talking about the union at work; forcing them to sign a statement disavowing the union; accusing them of “disloyalty” for participating in off-hours union functions; threatening reprisals against union supporters; and conducting unlawful surveillance of a union meeting. Moreover, as recently as this week, UNICCO fired one of the leading union supporters after she spoke about the union campaign to a reporter from the Orlando Sentinel, so there is reason to believe that the antiunion campaign has escalated rather than abated.
The President’s statement offered no mention of either the NLRB’s proceedings against UN ICCO or the substance of any of these allegations, let alone any suggestion that the University expects better from its campus contractors. But if the charges against UNICCO are true – and the agency of the federal government that is charged with protecting the organizing rights of American workers has found reasonable cause to believe that they are – the firm has engaged in a disgraceful campaign to thwart its workers’ organizing efforts. Should the employees vote to strike to protest this conduct, we will support their effort in every way we can that is consistent with our professional responsibilities to our students and to the University, and we urge other members of the UM community – faculty, students, administrators, and support staff – to do so as well.
The University’s own record on the issue of justice for campus contract workers is equally troubling. The UM Administration has, after all, been aware of the effects of its contracting policies at least since August 2001, when the Chronicle of Higher Education reported – to the mortification of virtually everyone in the UM community – that UM was the second lowest in janitorial pay among 195 institutions of higher learning and that we were one of only a dozen institutions that paid their custodial workers below the official Federal Poverty Wage.
For those of us who participated in the ensuing effort to persuade the University Administration to adopt a living wage policy, there is a disturbing sense of déjà vu here. Responding to criticisms from faculty, students, and other members of the University community, and to a spate of unwelcome publicity, the President at that time undertook a six-month study of compensation and benefits policies for contract workers. At the end of that process, she announced the health awareness and education initiatives outlined in yesterday's statement. That was obviously a step in the right direction, though the SEIU reports that many workers view those initiatives mostly as an opportunity to learn about treatments they can't afford and in any event as no substitute for a wage and benefit package that provides them with health care rather than merely health fairs. (We suspect that the larger
South Florida community – whose taxes and charitable contributions are currently covering the lion's share of the health care costs of such low-wage workers – would readily agree.) In any event, the President also announced that the University would continue to adhere to its “market-based” approach to pay for contract workers, meaning that outside firms could continue to compete for UM contracts by paying poverty-level wages, as indeed they have. Nothing was done about those embarrassing pay levels in 2001; in 2002; in 2003; in 2004; in 2005; or indeed in 2006, until three days before the scheduled strike vote.
The timing of the working group initiative thus speaks, loudly, for itself. In the eloquent words of Supreme Court Justice John Marshall Harlan, “[t]he beneficence of an employer is likely to be ephemeral if prompted by a threat of unionization which is subsequently removed.” The same is surely true of beneficence that is also prompted by a community outcry in support of its workers’ protests, and so we urge all members of that community to continue the outcry until the Administration commits itself to a living wage policy for all workers – UM as well as contract employees – who serve this University.
We would have more confidence in the likely results of this second round of study and consultation if the working group the President established had broader representation from the University community and in particular from student and faculty groups that have been critical of the contracting policies that the President is now willing to reconsider. And we would have more confidence still if those most directly affected had a voice in the decisionmaking process. Indeed, a voice in the process is exactly what the UNICCO workers are seeking through their unionization effort, and it’s exactly what UNICCO has evidently attempted to thwart through a continuing campaign of unfair labor practices. We stand with those workers in support of their efforts to secure “a place at the table” when decisions are made about their working lives, and we urge other members of the University community to stand with them as well.
See 102 signatories in the first comment, below.