Thursday, April 06, 2006

"Let 'em choose"

The janitors and groundskeepers on strike at the University of Miami are protesting unfair labor practices (ULPs) by their employer UNICCO. Many of the alleged ULPs concern interference by UNICCO with the workers’ legally-protected rights to unionize.

The law provides two ways for workers to unionize. One is by an election run by the National Labor Relations Board. The other is by a card check process, in which workers sign cards, counted by a third party, saying that they want a union. Unlike NLRB elections, however, card check requires the employer to agree. UNICCO refuses to agree. Why? UNICCO now sports the slogan "Let ‘em vote," signifying its preference for an election over card check. Their slogan echoes President Shalala’s remarks in a letter to students at UM. She wrote 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 the face of UNICCO’s and UM’s concerted invocation of the rhetoric of democracy, it is important to be clear on a few points.

1) UNICCO itself has recognized card check processes in Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York and Washington, D.C. Of the just over 8,000 unionized UNICCO employees, about 90% were organized by card check or similar procedures, only 10% by elections. Nationwide, according to the New York Times, card check processes accounted for about 70% of all workers unionized last year. If UNICCO is now suggesting that there is something unfair about card check, it condemns itself.

2) The NLRB has issued a complaint (tantamount to an indictment in labor law) against UNICCO, charging the company with a variety of unfair labor practices in its operation at UM, including forcing workers to sign statements disavowing the union, threatening union supporters with reprisals and conducting illegal surveillance of pro-union meetings among workers. The NLRB will not conduct an election until these issues have been resolved. In such a tainted environment, the NLRB often itself calls for card check recognition. The voting that UM and UNICCO want cannot occur, precisely because of the unfair labor practices with which UNICCO is charged.

3) Studies show that employees face significantly more anti-union harassment from their employers and slightly more pressure from union organizers or co-workers in NLRB elections than in card check. In other words, card check processes leave workers freer all round from outside pressure.

4) NLRB elections are decided by a majority of the workers who vote. Card check requires a majority of all workers. It is therefore a more representative process than an NLRB election.

5) It can take years before the results of NLRB elections are finally implemented. At Avante at Boca Raton Hospital, workers voted for a union in an NLRB election at the beginning of 1997. After appeals and delays, it was not until 2003, nearly seven years later, that negotiations for a contract began.

Elections and secret ballots have been powerful tools in the march of democracy. But we should not become so wedded to the rhetoric of elections that we lose sight of the realities governing the current circumstances. 57% of the UNICCO employees at UM have said they want to be allowed to decide whether to unionize by the card check process. The process has been proven to be less open to abuse. UNICCO uses that process elsewhere. And the NLRB won’t even hold an election until the charges against UNICCO’s unfair labor practices have been settled.

The university has claimed neutrality but, in its rhetoric, it is in fact siding with UNICCO. And when all is said and done, UM is UNICCO’s employer. We call on the UM administration to exercise its moral authority as UNICCO’s employer and to tell UNICCO to follow its own practices elsewhere and let the workers decide whether to unionize by their preferred method.

11 comments:

Anonymous said...

When did UNICCO ever let workers vote before on whether or not they wanted health insurance, or a decent wage? Never. Workers have always been told, "If you don't like this job, there's the door -- we'll find someone to replace you."

Are we really supposed to believe that they all of the sudden care about democracy?

The issue is whether or not those of us in Miami are going to defend people's most basic right -- the 1st Amendment -- to speak out and organize for a better life without fear of threats and reprisals.

One of the workers on hunger strike spent 9 years in prison in Cuba for speaking out against the government; another spent 15 years in Cuban prison for the same reasons. They came to Miami seeking their most fundamental of freedoms (and contrary to what Shalala says, it’s freedom of speech they are seeking not tainted secret ballot elections; they already had those in Cuba). But they and other workers say that what they have found from UNICCO at UM is intimidation as bad as what they had ever experienced before anywhere.

Against this backdrop of intimidation, workers have found immense courage to stand up and fight and sacrifice everything, including their own health. They deserve our support.

Donna Shalala and UNICCO have both said that the hunger strike is about an obscure procedural question. To the people most affected, it is much deeper than that -- it is about civil rights and freedom of speech. It is about everything they came to this country to find.

giovanna said...

thanks for this most eloquent post, anonymous (why don't you people sign yourselves, btw?). i think your comment might help people make sense of the "extreme" step taken by the UNICCO workers in engaging in a hunger strike. it is not about wages or unionizing. it's about having a voice, dignity, freedom, democracy, and not being treated, in the words of hunger striker feliciano hernandez, like "beasts of burden."

people who've been working two or three jobs for twenty years; who went to english classes between one job and the next and couldn't keep their eyes open so they still don't speak english; who can't afford to get sick because that would mean mean losing EVERYTHING; who, in spite of having so much LIFE behind them, are still treated like dispensible peons... these people may, at some point, just say "enough!"

i know i would.

Anonymous said...

I cannot believe how the union is taking such advantage of these poor people and inexpeirenced students. Without question - we live in a democracy - and as such - we believe in the power to vote. You would be hard pressed to argue the legitimate process of a secret vote. If this union wanted a dictatorship - a world where they could harass and stalk innocent hard working people until they signed a card the majority do not even understand - perhaps they need to leave the US and move elsewhere. SHAME ON THE SEIU!!!

Simon Evnine said...

Dear Anonymous,

Why do you have such little esteem for the autonomy of the workers and the students that you believe they can be so taken advantage of by the union? If we you actually meet and talk to any of them, you would be hard put to maintain your skepticism.
As for votes and dictatorships, we have covered these issues at great length. Not all votes are equally democratic. The regulations governing NRLB elections fall way short of the normal standards of democracy. In an NLRB election, only Unicco, not the union, would have regular access to all the voters, be able to require them to have one-on-one meetings with the management, be able to raise or lower their pay, etc. At the end of the day, other than talking, there's nothing the union can do to affect how workers decide, either in an election or card check. And finally, Unicco itself uses card check frequently in other places. So they can't think it's that bad a method.

Anonymous said...

The reason I have little esteem is because it is SO obvious how the SEIU is exploiting these innocent people to gain a new dues base... ask yourself - how much money has this local spent trying organize these hard working folks - and how many members does this specific local currently have paying dues today - I think the answers would shock you. If the support is truly there - as the SEIU claim it is - then why object to a secret vote? If what the SEIU claims to be true - it's a slam dunk - an easy win... but oddly - the SEIU is afraid of the real voice of these decent people - and afraid that that voice will tell them to keep those money stealing paws out of their pockets!

As for other card check elections - just because a company agreed in the past to an obvious mistake does not mean it is now committed to forever and ever honour such an undemocratic system. Live and learn as your grandmother would have taught you.

If you can't see what SEIU is really doing here - trying to fund outlandish cushy union exec lifestyles off the backs of these low-wage earners - then you really need a reality check. This is just another "investment" for them to which they hope to reap huge $$$ rewards. Personally it just makes me sick.

Thomas Jefferson said...

I don't get it... Both forms of voting are legitimate under the laws and regulations that govern this situation. It seems that Unnico, like any other employer subject to these same laws, has the option to choose which method is used. The union organizers are unhappy with that choice, and have chosen to pursue a very aggressive, and perhaps hysterical means of protesting Unnico's legal and legitimate exercize of choice in the method of employee voting.

Am I missing something here?

If the the SEIU is dissatified with the methods of voting under the current law, and who shall choose the method of voting, then they should stage their demonstration on the steps of Capital Hill. The federal government has the authority to amend the law... UM can't amend the law, Unnico cannot amend the law, and SEIU can't amend the law by camping out under the Metrorail in Coral Gables.

Take the "who chooses the union voting method issue" to the proper forum where redress can be sought and granted... Washington, DC.

Sadly, we witness hunger strikers barking up the wrong tree... a thousand miles away from where they should.

Thomas Jefferson said...

I don't get it... Both forms of voting are legitimate under the laws and regulations that govern this situation. It seems that Unnico, like any other employer subject to these same laws, has the option to choose which method is used. The union organizers are unhappy with that choice, and have chosen to pursue a very aggressive, and perhaps hysterical means of protesting Unnico's legal and legitimate means controlling the method of employee voting. Am I missing something here? If the the SEIU is dissatified with the methods of voting, and who shall choose the method of voting, then they should stage their demonstration on the steps of Capital Hill, as the federal government has the authority to amend the law... UM can't amend the law, Unnico cannot amend the law.

Sadly, we witness hunger strikers barking up the wrong tree...

Thomas Jefferson said...

I don't get it... Both forms of voting are legitimate under the laws and regulations that govern this situation. It seems that Unnico, like any other employer subject to these same laws, has the option to choose which method is used. The union organizers are unhappy with that choice, and have chosen to pursue a very aggressive, and perhaps hysterical means of protesting Unnico's legal and legitimate means controlling the method of employee voting. Am I missing something here? If the the SEIU is dissatified with the methods of voting, and who shall choose the method of voting, then they should stage their demonstration on the steps of Capital Hill, as the federal government has the authority to amend the law... UM can't amend the law, Unnico cannot amend the law.

Sadly, we witness hunger strikers barking up the wrong tree...

Anonymous said...

I don't get it... Both forms of voting are legitimate under the laws and regulations that govern this situation. It seems that Unnico, like any other employer subject to these same laws, has the option to choose which method is used. The union organizers are unhappy with that choice, and have chosen to pursue a very aggressive, and perhaps hysterical means of protesting Unnico's legal and legitimate means controlling the method of employee voting. Am I missing something here? If the the SEIU is dissatified with the methods of voting, and who shall choose the method of voting, then they should stage their demonstration on the steps of Capital Hill, as the federal government has the authority to amend the law... UM can't amend the law, Unnico cannot amend the law.

Sadly, we witness hunger strikers barking up the wrong tree...

elizabeth said...

wanting to pursue one method of unionization over another is not an issue of whim. This strike is over unfair labor practices. there can be no "vote" until these labor violations are resolved.unicco knows that and so does um. so of course they favor a "vote.." they know that it wouldn't happen for years... until the allegations of labor law violations are all resolved, and the nlrb steps in.. in the mean time, all of those workers that have sacrificed for those who didn't walk off the job, will be driven out and further exploited.
the card check method would mean that workers would have the protections they need now, when they most need union backing and unicco and UM know this- b/c most workers have already signed these cards.
in the absence of this method, the only way the workers could get to ":vote" more quickly would be by getting seiu to withdraw the unfair labor practices complaints to the NLRB so the vote can proceed. if they do that though, then their strike becomes one over wages, and not labor abuses. as such, they can all be fired for striking over 30 days and their whole struggle would have been in vain.
for all those who are so confident in the good will of big corporations and community leaders with cushy positions claiming democracy -- you need to think more deeply about these issues; we may think the U.S. is the ultimate form of democracy, but the fact is, every election day, if i vote for one candidate and BIll Gates' votes for another, they will not necessarily cancel each other out because his vote counts way more than mine. when you have money to buy access to decision makers and influence their decisions, then voting democracies take on shamlike characteristics. the fact that unicco and um keep using the "let em vote" slogal attests to this. why would they make easy a process that they absolutely do not want? and if you talk to the workers who are wearing these buttoms, many do not even know what they mean or what they are referring to. which should tell you that they were mandated to wear them-- union busting 101. and for those who like to characterize the raising of wages and offering insurance as an act of generousity, keep in mind it was a decision rooted in the forming of a committee on the eve of a strike (union busting 401-- how to do it when you outsource your work.)

Anonymous said...

Mr or Ms anonymous
R u worried about the employee's dues or UNICCO's reptuation?!
You talk about employee being used by the unions but never mention anything about employees being used by UNICCO.
I know it's a job you have to do and as long as you are with that company you have to support it. For I once worked for that company and witnessed how the director of H.R was telling us in meetings while the janitors and cleaners were out in our front blding striking to ignore them,and making comment such as "they just don't want to work and they get paid by unions while on strike".But whatever happened to ethic?! And no need to worry about their dues for it was their decision to be under union. UNICCO company is a prejduice company eventough it claims that they are hiring many different ethnics. However, they hire different ethnics to exploit them and to underpay them.