Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Response to President Shalala's piece in today's Herald

UM President Shalala published a piece in today’s Miami Herald in which she advances the following two views. First, that the university is not a party to the labor dispute on-going between Unicco, who contracts with UM to provide janitorial and groundskeeping services, and those of its employees who are now in their seventh week of strike and some of whom are in their third week of hunger strike. Secondly, that concerning one of the main points of contention, the method to be used by employees to decide whether to have a union, the university supports Unicco’s position and rejects that of the SEIU, the union that is suppoting the strike.

Regarding the first point, it cannot be forgotten that UM is Unicco’s employer. Like any employer, UM is morally (and perhaps also legally) responsible for Unicco’s behavior in doing the job UM pays it to do. The federal National Labor Relations Board has issued a complaint against Unicco (equivalent to indicting it for a crime), having found "reason to believe" that Unicco has threatened, intimidated, interrogated and spied on pro-union workers at UM. It is also investigating the company for firing a leading union organizer on the eve of the strike vote and making numerous threats against striking workers. As Unicco’s employer, UM needs to be publicly and vigorously attentive to such issues lest the university be perceived as complicit with Unicco. Furthermore, it is most certainly the university’s business to ensure a campus free from harassment and injustice of any kind.

Furthermore, President Shalala says the university has stepped up and done the right thing by requiring all its contractors to raise the pay of the janitors and ensure them some health insurance. But their wages, even after this increase, are well below a living wage as determined by both the City of Miami and Miami Dade County, both of which refuse to contract with companies that pay less than a living wage.

The second point concerns the method of unionization. President Shalala and Unicco are both insisting on an NLRB election whereas the workers want to use a method called card check recongition, in which a union is recognized if a majority of workers sign cards saying that is what they want. It may seem as if there is little difference and that, if anything, a secret-ballot election must surely be the more democratic process. Unfortunately, that is far from true. NLRB elections can take years to be resolved, during which time pro-union workers are fired or otherwise intimidated. One of the cases which President Shalala uses as evidence that the union accepts NLRB elections makes this very point: the Pan American Hospital. It took over two years after the workers there voted in an NLRB election for a union before a contract was finally negotiated. Other cases are even worse, some having gone on for 6 or 7 years. Furthermore, if it is true that SEIU has sometimes agreed to elections, it is also true that Unicco has agreed to card check for somewhere between 50% and 90% of its unionized workers.

President Shalala says that "SEIU and it supporters are pressuring the university to require Unicco to accept the method [card check] that does not guarantee participation by all employees." In so far as this claim even makes sense, it actually gets things backwards. Neither method, card check or NLRB election, guarantees participation by all employees. Workers can refuse to sign a card and refuse to vote in an election. But card check only succeeds if a majority of all the workers say they want a union, whereas NLRB elections are won by a majority only of those who actually vote. It is the card check method that actually guarantees greater representativeness. That is one of the several reasons why card check is now actually the norm in the United States. According to the New York Times, about 70% of all private sector workers unionized last year were unionized via card check or similar processes.

President Shalala has repeatedly tried to paint this as a hysterical dispute over a minor process issue. But the issue is really one of freedom of choice. 57% of the workers at UM have said they want to use card check. They have chosen this method. And the NLRB election route is, despite its uses of secret ballots, simply not an effective way of implementing freedom of choice. You cannot judge a democratic process by looking only at the moment of casting a vote or signing a card. The fact is, the rhetoric of secret ballots and democratic elections is belied by the regulations surrounding NLRB elections, which enable employers to have anti-union one-on-one meetings with all the voters while denying any comparable access to the union, which enable employers to raise or lower salaries, threaten to close the business, hire or fire workers, and so on.

President Shalala’s misleading characterization of the whole dispute is just further evidence that the university is an actively involved party, taking the side of Unicco. As such, the university has made itself fair game as a target for demonstrations (though President Shalala’s allegation that "bullies" and "professional protesters" have been brought in is really too ridiculous). What the university really needs to do is to stop pretending to be neutral while siding with Unicco and stand up for the law, for freedom of choice by the workers and for justice on the UM campus. One easy but effective step she could take is to urge her employee, Unicco, to start negotiating in earnest with the SEIU and to state publicly that she supports any democratic and legal solution to the problem as long as it represents the free choice of the people who keep UM clean and beautiful.

14 comments:

Anonymous said...

I cannot believe how badly the union is treating these poor souls... it really is shameless at the tactics they'll use just to increase their dues base.

For god's sake - the SEIU should allow a democratic vote before someone actually dies here (even the SEIU should understand the dead can't pay dues!).

Elizabeth said...

Dear anonymous,
if you feel so strongly about this, why don't you contribute to the hunger strikers' families fund? You would also have more credibility if you signed your name (Doug Bailey?).

Anonymous said...

Intelligent grown adults PROTESTING A LEGAL AND DEMOCRATIC VOTE with a hunger strike... something doesn't sound right about this. Has the SEIU lied to these innocent workers and students to provoke them into such an irrational position that they are seriously risking their own life over the unions demands that these workers be forced to pay union dues WITHOUT a legal and democratic vote? Has the SEIU, by starving these innocent workers and students, finally gone to far in it's quest to milk union dues out of the pockets of these people who can least afford it?

Let's openly and honestly ask ourselves...

How much money has the SEIU invested in this organizing campain?

How many current dues paying members does SEIU Local 11 have?

The answers to these two simple questions tell alot about the real motives of the SEIU... to state the obvious - these poor students and workers are nothing but meaningless pons in SEIU's attempts to reap a profit from it's investment. Has the SEIU disclosed that it's hoping to extract some $20,000 per MONTH out of the pockets of these innocent workers? Hmm, apparently the SEIU doesn't want you to know about that.

Ya know - there is a very special place in the very pits of HELL for people the lie, cheat and steal - like these very highly paid SEIU organizers.

May God have mercy on the families of these latest SEIU victims. May these victims come to realize that their lives are much to special and sacred than to be abused by this profit seeking corperation - the SEIU.

fwj said...

We at picketline would like to endorse Elizabeth's two suggestions for those who, like Anonymous, feel so bad on behalf of the workers who are on a hunger strike:

contribute to their family fund and sign your name!

If you don't trust us, you are perfectly welcome to deliver the money yourself. You know where they are.

Anonymous said...

Dear Elizabeth,

The SEIU has current assets in excess of $165 million dollars.

Andy Stern is making some $250 thousand dollars a year.

Considering this whole dog and pony show is nothing but an investment by the SEIU to make a profit, and the hardships created on these innocent families are directly caused soley by the SEIU and their reckless actions and lies... Why would anyone donate to the hunger striker's families fund? This is America - the families should just sue the SEIU for the damages they are inflicting.

More to the point, don't you think the SEIU would at least have a thread of credibility by finacially compensating these poor people for their misguided sacrifice (perhaps even giving them a percent - say 50% - of the union dues they want to start charging).

Who's Doug Bailey? For all I know - he's listed here as elizabeth! Get real.

Simon Evnine said...

The SEIU is paying the hunger strikers, as it is paying all the strikers, strike pay. Unfortunately, the hunger strikers cannot work the second or third jobs the workers need to work to keep their families.

As for forcing union dues to make a profit, Florida is a right to work state and no-one will be forced to join the union if there is one. Each worker will be able to decide each month whether to remain a member and pay the dues.

Anonymous said...

How much are these folks making in strike pay? If the SEIU is aware of the hardships it is causing - why not just pay these folks more - say a living wage?

$11 per hour x 24 hours a day = $264... nothing is stopping the SEIU from even paying more...

Elizabeth said...

Dear Anonymous,
You obviously are angry about this. And I don't mean to demean your point of view. Obviously, none of us want the workers to be exploited. We wouldn't be supporting this movement if we did. So my question to you is, have you actually talked to the workers you are trying to defend? What evidence do you have that they are being used?

Jeanette said...

On my third day of a solidarity fast, I feel neither duped nor like a peon and from spending the substantial amount of time with the workers that I have, I am confident that they don't either. In fact, it's amazing how resolved and strong they are, even last evening, when they spoke to a group of visitors from a Broward County Catholic Church about their history with Unicco and the reasons for the hunger striker. Perhaps we've all been duped -- the faith community, the community at large, the workers, the students, the faculty, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference -- duped into believing that we really can be the change that we envision in this world -- somehow it just doesn't feel like a bad thing.

Anonymous said...

Strike pay - that's all they get???

Why will the SEIU not LEAD BY EXAMPLE and pay these poor souls a living wage, you know - in exchange of the gross abuses the SEIU is openly encouraging in these people starving themselves. Say $11 an hr, 24 hrs a day is $264 per day you could be paying them... perhaps you could really LEAD BY EXAMPLE and even pay them even more so their families aren't also suffering from your exploitation.
Now that would really add some credibility...

Additionaly, has the SEIU set up some prepaid funeral arrangments for these people? You know, just in case. (I can only imagine a row of tacky purple caskets plastered with SEIU logos surrounded by now-parentless children with Andy Stern in the background grinning ear to ear).

PS. Do these people REALLY understand, without your vieled threats, the real workings of a right-to-work state?

Anthony Krupp said...

Anonymous is clearly a troll, that is, a person who delights in sowing discord on the Internet. He (and it is usually he) tries to start arguments and upset people.

A good explanation is here:
http://members.aol.com/intwg/trolls.htm

Also, he is a coward.

Best,
Anthony Krupp

P.S. One can only speculate on the identity of anonymous, but I will note that 'these' sorts of posts only started once I informed Doug Bailey that picketline was comment-enabled. Again, one can only speculate.

Anonymous said...

"Trolls see Internet communications services as convenient venues for their bizarre game. For some reason, they don't "get" that they are hurting real people. To them, other Internet users are not quite human but are a kind of digital abstraction. As a result, they feel no sorrow whatsoever for the pain they inflict. Indeed, the greater the suffering they cause, the greater their 'achievement' (as they see it). At the moment, the relative anonymity of the net allows trolls to flourish."

It's funny how you choose to ignore any rational thought process, resort to name calling, and suggest that I'm someone I've never even heard of (believe me - the vast majority is in total shock at how shamless the SEIU is... hence the local 11 membership is zero)... AND you live in denial of the tangle pain and suffering you are encouraging and inflicting - not only on these so obviously missled workers and students and their families, but also to your own society. You know deep in your heart that the SEIU is not only taking outragous advantage of the people, but also refusing to compensate them for their dramtic sacrifice.

Perhaps after you've matured a few years, you'll ponder and regret your foolishness... and hopfully learn from this.

Signed
"NOT DOUG BALEY"

V said...

Well, Anonymous is not Doug Baley.

We're still unsure if it's Doug Bailey.

Anonymous said...

"Trolls see Internet communications services as convenient venues for their bizarre game. For some reason, they don't "get" that they are hurting real people. To them, other Internet users are not quite human but are a kind of digital abstraction. As a result, they feel no sorrow whatsoever for the pain they inflict. Indeed, the greater the suffering they cause, the greater their 'achievement' (as they see it). At the moment, the relative anonymity of the net allows trolls to flourish."

It's funny how you choose to ignore any rational thought process, resort to name calling, and suggest that I'm someone I've never even heard of (believe me - the vast majority is in total shock at how shamless the SEIU is... hence the local 11 membership is zero)... AND you live in denial of the tangle pain and suffering you are encouraging and inflicting - not only on these so obviously missled workers and students and their families, but also to your own society. You know deep in your heart that the SEIU is not only taking outragous advantage of the people, but also refusing to compensate them for their dramtic sacrifice.

Perhaps after you've matured a few years, you'll ponder and regret your foolishness... and hopfully learn from this.

Signed
"NOT DOUG BAiLEY"