12 April 2006
For those who read Dr. Shalala’s letter today, she made a number of claims about which you would be wise to form your own opinions.
She writes that people were “brought to campus by the union,” and “It was the student organization S.T.A.N.D. that delivered the message that these outsiders were not welcome on campus today.”
It’s true that some protestors at the Ashe today are not members of the campus community, strictly speaking. However, most of us were – the crowd was mostly workers, with many students, and faculty wearing their “Faculty Support the Strike” shirts. There were also some “outside protestors.” But Dr. Shalala must know that poverty wages and disrespect for human rights and dignity at UM affect many people outside of this fine institution, and it is perfectly legitimate for people who don’t work or study here to be concerned, and to wish to help. STAND had to disband the demonstration because a very small contingent of the “outsiders” decided to vandalize the Ashe Building with a crayon, not because “the outsiders were not welcome” generally. On the contrary, we were pleased that members of the greater community showed up to demonstrate their support.
She goes on to say, “These outside protestors and the SEIU want union recognition without a single ballot cast by any UNICCO workers who would be affected. . . So they have turned on the University in an attempt to bully us into forcing UNICCO into recognizing the union without an election.” Dr. Shalala has suggested that this is all a trivial “process issue” – but a “process issue” is the least of what’s at stake. There are procedural elements, of course. But at its most basic level, this campaign is about human rights: the right to organize (or not organize) fairly and democratically, without coercion, corruption, or people getting fired to quash a pro-union movement; and the right to RESPECT on the job.
On the subject of the hunger strike, Dr. Shalala also writes that, “We are devastated by the thought that anyone in our community would risk their own health or the health of others.” How absurd to suggest that anybody is risking someone else’s health by hunger striking! Clearly, the implication is that people have been coerced into participating. Let me say, once and for all, that NOBODY is participating in the hunger strike for any reason other than that they came to an independent decision that they wanted to do it. We are all adults here, and I, frankly, am insulted by the suggestion that I or any of the other hunger strikers would allow ourselves to be fooled into starvation. One of the UNICCO worker hunger strikers, a man named Feliciano who spent nine years as a political prisoner in Cuba, was heard to say that at 60 years of age he feels he has lived his life, and now he is prepared to die for rights of his coworkers and future UNICCO employees, that they may not be treated with the same contempt as he has been. This afternoon, Feliciano had to be rushed to the hospital. We fervently hope that his dreary confession will not become the story of his death, but it may if changes in the administration of this university are not made. No one can be forced into that kind of dedication.
Finally, Dr. Shalala says, “We do not believe the current debate between SEIU and UNICCO over a card check vs. a secret ballot election is worth jeopardizing the health of one student or one UNICCO worker.” Our late-night discussions with her in the Admissions Office on March 28 made it quite clear to us that there were concerns about both the card check and the secret ballot processes, and that both have their flaws (the latter undoubtedly more than the former), but that Dr. Shalala was eager to find a third way that would truly serve the workers to make whatever decision they may. Now she restates the inflexible dichotomy of card check vs. secret ballot election . . .
It seems there may be some prevarication here. Nonetheless, I continue to pray for warm hearts . . . upstairs in the Ashe Building.