Friday, April 21, 2006

"Janitors between a Rock and a Hard Place" and other press

A great response to President Shalala's op-ed in the Herald, published in yesterday's Coral Gables Gazette by Jane Connolly (I'll add a link when they put it up on-line). A shorter version of this piece appears in Spanish in El Nuevo Herald.

In communicating to the University of Miami and South Florida communities about the labor strife at UM, Donna Shalala has made a number of erroneous statements about the current strike by the janitorial and landscaping workers. As a member of the faculty who was asked to participate in the negotiations called by President Shalala between UNICCO, the contract employer of the workers, and Service Employees International Union (SEIU), I feel compelled to correct these misstatements, including her recent claim that there are ongoing negotiations between UNICCO and SEIU. Both UNICCO and UM walked away from the negotiations table over two weeks ago. SEIU remains willingly to resume negotiations, but dialogue requires more than one party.

President Shalala argues that the increased compensation that UM is offering should have caused the workers and SEIU to declare victory and end the strike. While the workers are gratified to have increased wages and the possibility (finally) of health coverage, they still do not enjoy a living wage. Additionally, the strike has never been about compensation but about unfair labor practices. After investigating charges made by the workers, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) found in January that there was "reasonable cause to believe" that the charges were true and issued a complaint (tantamount to an indictment in labor law) alleging that UNICCO violated US labor law by committing the following unfair labor practices: Interrogating workers about their union support; prohibiting them from talking about the union at work; forcing them to sign a statement disavowing the union; accusing them of disloyalty for participating in off-hours union functions; threatening reprisals against union supporters; and conducting unlawful surveillance of a union meeting. A hearing is scheduled for the end of May but may be delayed owing to a dozen new charges now under investigation by the NLRB, including UNICCO’s firing of one of the leading union supporters after she gave an interview to a journalist writing a story about the union campaign. (continued in first comment)

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Also in today's El Nuevo Herald is a translation of the four-authored op-ed from the Sun Sentinel a few days ago. (Thanks to Lillian Manzor for the translation of this and Jane's piece.) It also appears in English and in Spanish (a different translation, so literature people can compare and contrast) in Progreso Semanal/Progreso Weekly.

Finally, a nice piece in the on-line People's Weekly World.

The word is getting out!

2 comments:

fwj said...

Although President Shalala has repeatedly asserted that UM is neutral with regard to the relations between the workers, UNICCO and SEIU, the administration has shown on numerous occasions that it is not a neutral agent. Even the positive action of increasing compensation, clearly in the hopes that the labor dispute will die (something President Shalala’s recent communications have lamented hasn’t happened), shows that UM is far from neutral. President Shalala has insisted that SEIU and the workers settle the dispute through an NLRB election, insisting that a secret ballot election is the only democratic solution. This stance again betrays UM’s lack of neutrality as NLRB also recognizes card checks, which is what the workers have repeatedly requested and UNICCO (and UM) has consistently denied. According to the New York Times, card checks were used in 70% of all unionization campaigns last year. Additionally, UNICCO has recognized card checks and similar methods for 90% of its 8000 unionized employees, so it clearly hasn’t viewed it as an undemocratic process elsewhere. Why won’t it allow a card check for its UM workers?

And why are SEIU and the workers opposed to an NLRB election? After all, aren’t secret ballots the most democratic way? In the case of unionization, no. First and at present foremost, the NLRB will not conduct an election, even if the workers agree that this is an acceptable resolution, until the NLRB complaint against UNICCO is heard and resolved. So, UNICCO’s, and President Shalala’s, call for an NLRB election is more than a bit disingenuous. Even if an election were possible, though, the workers would unquestionably insist on a card check simply because they view it as a fairer and less threatening process. The election process allows for greater intimidation by the employer than the card check process. Numerous studies by faculty across the country show: Workers in NLRB elections were twice as likely (46% vs. 23%) as those in card check campaigns to report that management coerced them to oppose the union, 53% more likely to report that management threatened to eliminate jobs, and 28% more likely to report that management discriminated against union supporters. Additionally, fewer workers in card check campaigns than in elections felt pressure from coworkers to support the union (17% vs. 22%), and workers in card check campaigns were almost twice as likely as those in elections (62% vs. 33%) to report that management took a neutral position and left the decision to form a union up to workers. Furthermore, 30% of employers fire pro-union workers; 49% of employers threaten to close a worksite when workers try to form a union; 51% of employers coerce workers into opposing unions with bribery or favoritism; 82% of employers hire union-busting consultants to fight organizing drives; 91% of employers force employees to attend one-on-one anti-union meetings with supervisors. A final point: NLRB elections are inordinately slow processes. In the typical case, it takes weeks or even months for the agency to schedule an election, and the post-election appeals process can take five to seven years. True democratic processes do not allow for coercion of the voters and do not take years to determine the results.

Finally, President Shalala has dismissed the hunger strike by students and workers as an incomprehensible protest over a process, and has blamed SEIU for manipulating them. I know all the hunger strikers, and I know their reasons for deciding to hunger strike and their determintation. SEIU did not want them to endanger their lives with a hunger strike and encourages them daily to end it for their health's sake. The workers on hunger strike, all immigrants, came to this country in search of freedom and democracy, and to live and work with dignity and respect. They are on hunger strike because all of this has been denied to them by UNICCO at UM. They want their voices heard. Although President Shalala has complained publicly that she is between a rock and a hard place, they are the ones between the rock (UNICCO) and the hard place (Shalala).

Anonymous said...

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