Wednesday, March 29, 2006

President Shalala's message to students

the president sent this to the students today at 4:30. click here for the original message.

A Message from President Shalala

Dear Students:

What on earth is going on at the University of Miami? It would be easy to say we are simply caught between a rock and a hard place. We are, but that is not unusual in a complex university. People hired me because I don’t mind being in impossible situations. While there is still some grumbling about our new wage and healthcare policy for our contract workers, we have a solid plan and it is being implemented as I write.

Why, then, did 15 students end up in the foyer of the Admissions Office at 1:00 am talking to me about their frustration with the university. Basically, they want the university to tell one of our contractors, UNICCO, to accept cards that the union, SEIU, has had UNICCO employees sign requesting union recognition. The union argues that collecting signatures as an indication of what the employees want is better and fairer than a secret, federal government (National Labor Relations Board) supervised vote. The contractor, UNICCO, has called for the secret ballot procedure supervised by the NLRB (it should be noted that recognizing a union on the basis of cards is optional under the law; recognizing a union under a secret ballot election is mandated by the law).

Both sides have accused the other of intimidating the UNICCO employees to support or not support the union and to sign or not sign the cards. The students who sat in yesterday support the SEIU position. They wanted the university to share their view. They believe the NLRB process takes too long and is flawed. As I explained to them, we are neutral on the process – the union and the contractor need to work that out. However, when pushed on why we couldn’t just choose to support the card-signing system, I pointed out that the university simply could never take a position against a secret ballot procedure supervised by a federal government agency. Secret ballots are at the heart of our democratic system. In fact, many of the UNICCO employees in our community came to this country precisely because of our free (and secret ballot) elections.

I also reiterated the university’s very strong position that we believe that no one should be coerced or intimidated or fear for their job because they are for or against unions. We will not tolerate contractors who break the law. We insist that everyone who works, studies or receives care at the university be treated with respect and dignity.

So – back to the rock and a hard place. I suggested last night that everyone sit down and see if they can find a third option that is free from intimidation. We need a fair democratic process for the employees of UNICCO to decide whether or not they want SEIU to represent them, free from intimidation or coercion from either side, or concern about their job stability. That discussion will begin Friday at noon.

In addition, I want to repeat the university’s policy on demonstrations, protests and free speech – all are welcome and are part of the fabric of American higher education. However, no one has the right to coerce or intimidate another member of our community. Nor do they have the right to interfere with anyone’s right to study, teach, do research, provide for our patients or do the university’s other business.

I believe universities are sacred places on this earth. Those of us who are responsible for your education have special responsibilities. Those responsibilities are not easy to do – as you will observe during your years at this special university.

I’ll try to keep you posted from my perch on the rock, next to the hard place.

Your President, Donna E. Shalala

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