Thursday, March 16, 2006

A great step forward, but it ain't over yet.

As many of you may have heard by now, Donna Shalala today announced that the university will set its own minimum wage for all contract employees (not just those employed by UNICCO) and offer them some health insurance. You can read about it on-line in the Miami Herald.

This is a step in the right direction. (Read the SEIU response here.) However, we have not yet crossed the finish line and attained a place at the table for the workers. A one-time raise from the University (which, if the details reported in the Herald are true, still does not guarantee a living wage for most campus workers or meet the demands of the striking workers), while a very positive step in itself, is no substitute for the on-going ability of the workers to have a say in the full range of decisions that affect their working lives, let alone for a permanent "place at the table" where they can ensure that these hard-fought gains do not deteriorate over time.

Without successful unionization, it may only be a matter of time before we have to go through this whole process again. UNICCO is still under investigation by the NLRB (indeed, additional charges alleging further labor-law violations will be filed by SEIU tomorrow). The strike continues until UNICCO recognizes the right of the workers to form a union in a manner they have chosen, one that is not contaminated by intimidation, and ceases its violations of labor law.

What can and should sympathetic faculty members do at this point?

We suggest that faculty symbolically acknowledge the progress the janitors are making by returning to teaching in normal class rooms, starting this Monday, March 20th. At the same time, we will begin a new series of actitivities and events designed to demonstrate our continued support for the courageous strikers whose preliminary success we celebrate today. We urge everyone to attend and publicize these events as much as they are able. This new strategic approach is designed to acknowledge progress, demonstrate solidarity with the janitors' continuing effort, and keep up the pressure on our administration to come to the table with the striking workers.

Here is a preliminary schedule of such events. More details will be posted as they are formed.

1) On Monday 20th March, between 12.-1:30 on the lawn in front of the library, students will be holding a study circle, with information concerning the situation.

2) On Wednesday 22nd March, probably from 6-9pm, students from STAND will be holding a concert with a variety of local musicians. Some workers will also be speaking at this event.

3) On Thursday 23rd March, there will be a screening of the film Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price, organized by the Graduate Student Association and Tikkun. Striking workers may be invited to talk.

4) On Tuesday 28th March, starting around 6pm, there will be a student/faculty/worker congress on campus. There will be many workers present, and representatives from UNICCO and the UM administration will also be invited to put forward their points of view. We strongly encourage faculty to offer extra credit and writing credit assignments to students who attend this event and write about it or the issues connected to it. You can emphasize that the event will be balanced, with all sides getting a chance to make their case, and of course, students taking such extra credit or writing credit opportunities will be completely free to write about the strike from any point of view, as they see fit.

5) On Monday April 3rd (if things have not been resolved by then) there will be a faculty organized teach-in.

In addition, if you feel it at all appropriate for your classes, you can arrange for some of the workers to come and address your students. This would work especially well in classes in political science, economics, history and international studies, but obviously this is at the discretion of individual faculty. Please contact Giovanna at if you are interested.

And, keep watching this space for more news!

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