Saturday, March 04, 2006

FAQ one

I hear there’s a strike going on. How come I don’t see any picketing?

The University has forced striking workers to confine their picket line to a single entrance on campus far removed from most academic activities, and now University officials are spreading the rumor that there is very little support for the strike among the UNICCO employees. Putting aside the fact that the University’s position is a lot like sticking a knife in someone’s back and then having him arrested for carrying a concealed weapon, over 100 faculty and students signed a statement yesterday condemning this patent interference with worker free speech as yet another violation of UM’s “neutrality” pledge and as inconsistent with traditional University commitments to free expression and association on campus.

But isn’t there a legitimate concern about violence on the picket line?

Are you kidding? Most of the workers in question are the women you see cleaning various campus buildings, and many of them are in their 50’s and 60’s. To be sure, there is a lot of anger and frustration – among the employees as well as among faculty and students appalled at the University’s treatment of these employees – but it is exceedingly unlikely that anyone is going to get hit by a broom or a mop.

And once again, why are they striking?

To protest UNICCO’s violations of U.S. labor law. The National Labor Relations Board – the federal agency charged with protecting the rights of American workers to form and join unions – has issued a complaint (the labor law equivalent of an indictment) charging UNICCO with spying on the union, interrogating workers about their union support, threatening union supporters with reprisals, and various other unlawful antiunion acts.But I didn’t see any of that happen, and

I hear that UNICCO denies it all. What evidence is there – apart from the union’s allegations and the NLRB’s complaint – that UNICCO is violating the law?

Funny you should ask. Last week, UNICCO escalated its antiunion campaign considerably, firing a leading union organizer after she spoke about the campaign with a reporter from the Orlando Sentinel. It is the most fundamental violation of U.S. labor law to fire an employee for union-related activities, so click on this link and judge the reporter’s account of the discharge for yourself.

If the union enjoys so much support for its strike, why are people still cleaning on campus?

Representatives from the SEIU report that at least 50% of the workers on the Coral Gables campus have joined the strike so far, a percentage that is confirmed by reports from various units on campus. But keep in mind that the actual support for the union and the strike is likely to be much higher than that, for a fair percentage of the workers in question simply cannot afford the loss of wages that would accompany joining the strike and/or are reluctant for a host reasons to “rock the boat” with an employer that – if the Orlando Sentinel article is accurate – has already demonstrated its willingness to visit the industrial equivalent of capital punishment on union supporters.

Let’s cut to the chase. Why do these workers want a union in the first place?

Their pay and benefit levels – in the words of the Miami Herald, “some of the lowest in any major U.S. university” – are the principal complaint, and yesterday’s column by Ana Menendez of the Herald does a good job of describing their plight in human terms

Okay, I’m appalled. What should I do?

Support the strikers. If you are a faculty member, move your class off campus for the duration of the strike; if you are a student, ask your professors to move their classes off campus or to enable students who want to respect the picket line to keep up with class material in some other way. Join the activities on behalf of the strike by checking on this website, on, or on And most of all, be sure to let the UM Administration know how you feel about the treatment of campus contract workers and about union-busting on campus!

To join the faculty and staff listserve, email To join the STAND's listserve (STAND is the UM student association that supports the strike) email

You can also bring food to the Strike Sanctuary (Episcopal Chapel on the UM Coral Gables campus, just near the Standford Dr. entrance) or donate money by the SEIU Local 11 Strike Fund. Make checks payable to the fund and send them to:
SEIU Local 11
c/o Leslie Schuler
1680 Michigan Ave, Suite 1100
Miami Beach, FL 33139

Traci Ardren
Michael Fischl
Giovanna Pompele

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