Many of you will have seen or heard about four full-page ads placed by the University of Miami in the Miami Herald from Tuesday April 25th to Friday April 28th. Each ad revolves around a particular theme. We would like to respond.
Tuesday April 25th: "We Provided Higher Wages. We Provided Health Insurance. We Have Done Our Part." UM did indeed require all its contractors to increase the minimum pay of their employees to $8 an hour. We commend this move. The fact that it was made shows that a university's president can intervene to correct injustices perpetrated by its contractors. However, the increased wages are still well below the living wage required of all contractors by Miami-Dade County and the City of Miami. The City of Miami requires a minimum hourly rate of $10.58 if health insurance is provided, and $11.83 otherwise.
The ad mentions that the health insurance to be offered to UNICCO workers costs $13 a month. This is the premium for employee coverage alone. Employee/spouse and employee/child premiums are $266 and $241 respectively. Family coverage is a whopping $493, fully 34% of the income of a full-time worker making $8.50 an hour. We understand that President Shalala, an expert on health care, told her class this semester that affordable health care should not cost more than 10% of a person’s income. UNICCO workers may be able to afford health care for themselves (we say may because there is still nothing known of the actual coverage, deductibles and co-pays), but most likely will have to see their spouses and children go without.
As for having "done its part," can anyone say this when there is still injustice going on under their noses which they are in a position to alleviate?
Wednesday April 26th: "Outside Protestors Trespass On Our Campus. Our Students, Faculty, and Staff Are Harassed. The Union Has Gone Too Far." The cry of "outsiders" and "anarchists" (also mentioned in the ad) is classic. People who went to Mississippi in the 60’s were "outsiders," those who brought us an 8 hour workday were "anarchists," etc., etc.
It is not clear just who the university is alluding to. President Shalala spoke at the recent Faculty Senate meeting of "Black Block" anarchists and other "scary" types but no details have been made public. We have seen a handful of people at rallies who were not union, faculty, students, workers, or known community stalwarts (clergy, living wage people, etc.). We have never seen or heard of any violence (except on the part of security or police against students). There was one act of vandalism when some students from another university scrawled on the back of Ashe with a marker; one of these students has since spoken to UM faculty asking what he could do to make sure that our students are not disciplined for his actions, noting that he was not invited by the students or the union to attend the rally. The university’s reaction here is just a little hysterical.
As for "the union has gone too far," it should be remembered that the only serious disruptions have occurred when the administration closed down Ashe. On one occasion, the students did a sit-in in the Admissions office, not an academic unit. The administration locked down the building and police prevented faculty from leaving to teach their classes. The sit-in was not organized by the union but the students, who are intelligent, courageous, free agents. When Charles Steele, president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (Martin Luther King’s organization), went to Ashe to try to see President Shalala, some students entered the building and were forcibly removed. Ashe was locked down, once again, impeding students and faculty from getting to classes and offices. The students remained in front of the building with tape over their mouths, humming "We shall overcome" with clergy offering prayers, hardly disruptive actions. The administration again had increased police presence, on occasion locking down Ashe, when David Bonior, former Speaker of the House, appeared at the Episcopal Center; when 77-year-old Ed Asner came to Ashe to try to see President Shalala, speaking to the few students who were in front; when Rev. Steele, former candidate for Vice President John Edwards, and Jimmy Hoffa spoke at a rally off campus. The union had nothing to do with the decisions to shut down Ashe, disrupting the free movement of students, faculty and staff.
Thursday April 27th: "They Stage Daily Publicity Stunts. They Disrupt Our Academic Mission. The Union Needs To Stop Its Tactics." See comments on the previous ad. In addition, this ad says "the union... encourag[ed] UM students and UNICCO workers to starve themselves." This is false. The hunger strikers acted autonomously and without encouragement. In fact, the union tried to dissuade people from hunger striking. This is perfectly consistent with supporting them once they decided to act for themselves.
Friday April 28th April: "They Don’t Want Workers To Vote. They Argue Against Freedom and Democracy. Does The Union Think Workers Are Second-Class Citizens?" Here the university clearly aligns itself with UNICCO (so much for their neutrality), whose slogan is "let ‘em vote." We have explained over and over the nature of the card check process the union and the workers want: how it is fairer, more representative, less open to abuse that an election conducted by the NLRB.
The ad contains one particular mistake that has also characterized the Miami Herald’s news coverage. "This method [i.e. card check] involves soliciting individual signatures from UNICCO employees and does not guarantee participation by all UNICCO employees." In fact, if a worker does not sign a card, it counts as a no vote. Hence the method does guarantee participation by all workers and requires a majority of all workers in order to be successful. It is the NLRB election advocated by UM and UNICCO that does not guarantee participation by all. Like any election, non-voters’ opinions do not count for or against. Hence, the election is won only by a majority of those who choose to vote. This could, needless to say, be a minority of the workers as a whole.
It is, frankly, offensive for the university to suggest that the union thinks "the workers are second-class citizens" because it insists on a card check process. Card check is the most common method of private sector unionizations today in the US. Last year, 70% of all private sector workers unionized were unionized by card check or similar processes. UNICCO itself has admitted to using the method for at least half its unionized employees, and the information we have seen indicates that the true figure is 90% of all its 8500 unionized workers. There is currently a bill in congress with bi-partisan support that would make it obligatory for companies to recognize the results of card check processes. Were you to ask the workers who thinks they are second-class citizens, they would surely answer UNICCO and the UM administration.