Thursday, March 30, 2006

Two new accounts of Ashe Tuesday - one from a student 'inside'

Here is an account of the occupation by Liza Alwes, one of the students occupying the Admissions Office on Tuesday March 28th:

First, the rally Tuesday at Stanford and Ponce (estimated at 300 people) moved to occupy all four corners of the US-1 and Stanford [actually, it was Granada] intersection. Clergy and workers sat down in the middle of US-1 to draw attention to the continued plight of workers and were arrested within 10 minutes.

At half past noon, 19 students and university chaplain Father Frank Corbishley entered the Admissions Office in the ground floor of Ashe and refused to leave until almost 2:00 in the morning. We intended to stay until our demands, as outlined by the statement "Why We Are Sitting In," were met. In a nutshell, we were hoping they would provide a living wage and benefits to all workers and recognize the workers' decision to unionize via card check.

We entered the office around half past noon, and soon shared the ground floor with not only a bunch of faculty and our outside delegation but about 10 police officers (a number which grew throughout the time we were there, to about 30, complete with canine unit, riot gear, and paddy wagon – just in case our non-violent demonstration got wildly out of control). We linked arms and sang the "Alma Mater" about two hundred times.

We were told that we could be suspended, expelled, or arrested, charged with trespassing, and kept in the Miami-Dade prison overnight if we didn't leave. When we did leave, we were given amnesty from all academic and legal punishments. While we were in the Admissions Office, police officers guarded the restrooms to prevent us from peeing anywhere other than the Admissions Office – guys in empty water bottles, girls in a trash can (complete with "Scoop Away" brand kitty litter).

Outside, two hundred people or more – workers, faculty, students, organizers, and media – surrounded the Ashe Building all day long, even until the very early morning, shouting and chanting almost incessantly.

In the afternoon, President Shalala held a meeting. Jane Connolly, Vice Dean of Arts and Humanities, reported [text in the post Ashe Tuesday].

Throughout the day, after the failure of the original meeting, we had meetings inside the Admissions Office with Dr. Whitely, Vice President of Student Affairs, and later with President Shalala, the Provost, and the Dean.

Finally, in consultation with us, the administrators wrote this document.

Here's the story as told by the South Florida Interfaith Committee for Worker Justice:

On Tuesday, March 28th, many clergy, community members, UM students, and UM faculty gathered at the strike sanctuary to demonstrate our support for UM janitors. We then marched together down US 1 to the Granada intersection where we joined the UM janitors and waited for an opportune moment to crowd the crosswalks of that intersection. At that time, as a symbol of solidarity, a number of workers, clergy, and community members who felt so moved formed concentric circles in the middle of US 1 to partake in an act of nonviolent civil disobedience. In the end, 17 of us were arrested and then we prayerfully proceeded to the Coral Gables jail.

While that was happening, a group of students, lead by STAND (Students Toward a New Democracy) and accompanied by Fr. Frank Corbishley entered the Bowman Foster Ashe Building on the UM campus attempting to meet with university President Donna Shalala. The group began its sit-in in the admissions office to request a meeting with Shalala regarding the new policy on wages and benefits for all university and contractual employees. Demonstrators were not allowed to use the restroom facilities nor were they allowed water. After being threatened with expulsion and arrest, students met with Shalala four times over the duration of approximately 13 hours. Around 1:30 a.m., Shalala agreed to meet with students, faculty, and labor groups to reach a fair agreement, protecting the janitors’ right to unionize.

And there's a great story in the Miami Sun Post, with photos by Carlos Miller, who was in the lobby of Ashe until about 4.30, when the police threw him out, and was outside Ashe until the very end.


Liza Alwes said...

My final comments included an expression of my regret that the issue of a living wage for all UM contract workers was obscured by the discussion of unionization processes. I would like to note, as I did in the original statement, that Dr. Whitely boasted that as a result of the changes of mid-March, 50% of UM contract workers now make a living wage. To me, this is a distinctly half-empty situation. So I try to reiterate that, while the insurance that workers' organizing rights are observed on campus is vital, the living wage campaign is far from over.

giovanna said...

well said, liza.

at the same time, the two issues are inextricably linked. with proper representation and the ability to conduct collective bargaining, the UNICCO workers will be in a much better position to demand a living wage for ALL and to ensure that it's not taken away or tampered with at a later time.

liza said...

yes, well i would be willing for the union to fight the living wage battle for unicco workers, but there are still no union prospects for chartwell's, etc, and so i think the university still needs to implement a living wage policy - unicco workers make up a large fraction of um's contract workers, but they are still a minority.

giovanna said...

so, so true, liza. thanks for pointing this out.