it's just after 10 AM on friday, march 31. what a fitting day for negotiators from all parties finally to meet around the same table! the strike started exactly one month ago, on march 1, ash wednesday.
in about two hours, for the first time ever, workers, SEIU reps, students, and faculty of the university of miami will sit down with UM administrators and UNICCO officials to discuss "the situation." the situation is that, after one month of striking, UNICCO workers still don't have a living wage, health insurance (though a package has been announced by president shalala), and the union representation they want.
it's hard not to be emotional about today. however the negotiations go, it is grand that we got here. the workers are no longer invisible. they have a seat at the table. a lot of sweat has been poured for this to happen. a janitor was fired. striking and non-striking workers have been harassed and cajoled into returning to work (the former) or supporting NLRB elections, the method of union selection UNICCO is insisting on in this situation (the latter). as you know, the workers want card check. this blog has covered the difference between the two repeatedly. but you don't have to read our entries to figure out that if the workers are pushing for one method of unionization and their employer is pushing for another, maybe, just maybe, the one the employer wants is not the one that's most conducive to the achievement of the workers' true wishes. in any case, the workers should be able to choose to unionize in whichever legal way they prefer. do you see a problem with this? for all i'm worth, i don't.
let our thoughts be with our workers and students and faculty today at noon. a month is a long time to strike for people who live hand to mouth, with no savings and no safety net. if you were out by the ashe building on tuesday, though, you wouldn't have known these extraordinary people had a month of privations, harassment, and anxiety behind them. as long as the students stayed in the admissions office, the workers cheered. i'm talking 14 hours. i'm talking people in their 50s and 60s with little or no access to health care. i'm not talking gym-going, latte drinking youngsters.
walking back and forth from the negotiations, the president turned to the workers who were glued to the glass doors of ashe and flashed them the thumbs up. towards the end, the thumbs came down and the president put her index fingers to her lips. the workers' cheers went up a few decibels. sorry, dr. shalala. i don't think these people can be shushed.
i remember two occasions on which president shalala mentioned the importance of doing "the right thing." the first time was after katrina, when tulane students needed relocating. in a message to the university community, the president said we would take some of them. "it's the right thing to do," she said.
when, a couple of weeks ago, she announced raising the campus contract workers paychecks by a couple of dollars, president shalala said it again: it's the right thing to do.
dr. shalala, do it again today. do the right thing. allow these people decent salaries, health insurance, and dignity. respect their right to unionize whichever way they want, not the way UNICCO wants or you prefer. it's the right thing to do. they are dying to get back to work. and we are dying to see them back.
here is the list of negotiators as announced by the university this morning.
at 11:45 we'll walk to the administration building delivering a letter signed by nationally recognized figures. we are meeting at the episcopal church, the strike sanctuary. be there. be counted.