Saturday, August 26, 2006

fresh breeze of change at FIU

FIU to Negotiate Health Insurance Plan for Adjunct Faculty, Temporary and Contract Workers

MIAMI--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Aug. 24, 2006--Today Florida International University announced a challenge to health insurance companies: Design a plan that covers hundreds of temporary employees and contract workers who currently do not have access to affordable health care.

This innovative plan, which is the latest in a series of progressive human resources initiatives adopted in recent months, would need to carry an affordable price tag for the insured and be portable. The Invitation to Negotiate (ITN) is open to all insurance companies doing business in Florida.

"We hope to serve as the conduit that would enable our employees and the employees of our small business partners access to affordable health care through group rates," said Senior Vice President Vivian Sanchez. "The idea is to structure plans and negotiate rates which individuals or small companies could not otherwise afford."

The university would then give more than 2,000 individuals direct access to these deals. Some of the potential beneficiaries are adjunct faculty members and other temporary/part-time employees of the university (sometimes referred to as OPS) who are not covered by regular university benefits. Others work at FIU as janitors, grounds keepers, bus drivers, and security personnel but who don't have access to health care plans because they are not FIU employees, but rather are employed by university contractors who often do not offer health benefits.

Sanchez said the idea builds on innovative plans already in place at other institutions but would, for the first time, be available to contractors. The plan is expected to be in place by January of 2007.

"This plan has great potential for success because it addresses the needs of the temporary employees and contracted workers while working within the public university's fiscal limitations," said Sanchez, who also serves as the university's CFO.

"I'm proud of this move," said Faculty Senate Chair Bruce Hauptli. "We are taking the lead here as we endeavor to become known as an 'employer of choice' concerned with the well-being of all our employees and with those who work on our campuses and enrich our community."

Three years ago, the state granted its universities the authority to negotiate contracts, determine employee benefits and establish terms and conditions of employment. This process, typically referred to as devolution, set in motion a series of changes, including new human resources practices. Since that process started, many employees have gained benefits, better working conditions and higher pay. Also as part of this process, long-term FIU employees are being offered the opportunity to convert from temporary to permanent employment with full benefits. A plan is being developed for this transition.

FIU employees enjoy human resources policies that have been recognized for Progressive Workplace Innovations at the national level by the College and University Professional Association for Human Resources. In addition to traditional benefits such as paid leave, life insurance and retirement plans, FIU Employees have employee and family tuition waivers, paid personal development and flex-time and flex-place options.

"Our philosophy is to afford the entire FIU family the best possible working conditions," said FIU President Modesto A. Maidique. "Our Board of Trustees has clearly encouraged us to put in place contemporary, progressive measures in all areas of the institution. These actions get us closer to that goal."

For more information on the ITN visit

Florida International University, Miami
Maydel Santana-Bravo, 305-348-1555
At A Glance
Florida International University
Source: via Business Wire
Updated 03/24/2004 by company
Headquarters: Miami, Florida
CEO: Modesto Maidique
Employees: 4,000
Organization: University

Thursday, August 24, 2006

30% wage increase for UM janitors

a really good story by niala boodhoo in today's herald on yesterday's ratification of the contract by UNICCO employees. and here is the herald's summary of the new contract.


(pictures courtesy of Daniel Correa)

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

the contract we fought for has been ratified!

Today at lunchtime, a joyous final chapter was written to the yearlong struggle for a union contract by the UNICCO workers at UM. President of the SEUI Local 11 Rob Schuler explained to a packed Episcopal Church the details of the contract hammered out by UNICCO, the union and the bargaining team of workers. In brief, these are the highlights:

Wages: $0.25 per hour raise on Sep 1, 2006
$0.40 Sep 1, 2007
$0.50 Sep 1, 2008
$0.50 Sep 1, 2009

Health Insurance: any increases in the premium up to 10% to be absorbed by UNICCO. Increases beyond that will trigger a committee to investigate further ways of reducing costs

Personal Days: Increase from 2 to 3 paid personal days

Vacations: 1 year - 1 week
5 years - 2 weeks
10 years - 3 weeks

Holidays: Three extra paid holidays: Christmas Eve, New Year's Eve and the day after Thanksgiving

Funeral Leave: 3 paid days

Seniority: Workers with more years get more benefits

Safety: A committee of workers and management will meet every month to address any safety issues

Union Rights: The union will have the right to post materials, to speak to new hires and to investigate abuses on job time

Immigration: Workers will be allowed time off to deal with immigration issues

Job Security: Basic structures will be put in place to deal with harassment, favoritism and improper dismissal

The workers voted to ratify the contract with great enthusiasm. The energy was amazing and the workers certainly felt they had scored a great victory. As one of them, Julio Ramos, said before the vote, hopefully their job would become one that can lead them out of poverty instead of keeping them in it.

new contract to be voted on today

in today's miami herald:

UM janitors to vote on union today


University of Miami janitors will vote this afternoon to approve the first union contract with the private school, the Service Employees International Union said.

SEIU said it had reached a tentative agreement with contractor UNICCO Services Company on a new employee contract for the UM workers.

Some janitors held a months-long strike at the university last spring in protest over the right to organize. After nine weeks of the walkout and protests from some students, faculty and clergy -- including a hunger strike -- the university, Unicco and the union reached an agreement in May on how the workers could vote for a union.

A majority of the janitors voted for the union earlier this summer, and negotiations on the contract began soon after.

The vote will be at 1 p.m. today, SEIU said.

Just before the strike began, UM announced it would raise wages for the workers by at least 25 percent.

Details of the contract were not provided, although the union said the tentative agreement provided for higher wages, more vacation time and better healthcare coverage for the 400 workers.

Emboldened by its success at UM, union activists have started organizing campaigns at Nova Southeastern and Florida International Universities.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

welcome back UM!

it's a grey and rainy day in miami, but it's okay, because our beautiful lawns and beautiful trees need the water -- not that they wouldn't be getting it if it weren't raining, mind you, but this way, hopefully, the university will turn off the sprinklers and let nature take care of itself!

as you admire our spiffed up campus, please keep in mind the men and women who've been putting in a lot of underpaid overtime in the last few weeks to make it look its very best for the beginning of the new year.

now that our UNICCO workers are finally unionized (even these many months later, i cannot write these words without a tinge of disbelief and awe), new contract negotiations are under way. they are taking place as i type. i'll keep you informed.

on a more somber note, i'd like to remember here the mother of pablo rodriguez, one of the ten workers who went on a hunger strike last spring. a couple of weeks ago julia felt ill during a very long shift in 95 degree temperatures. he coworkers had told her to go home or at least take a break, drink some water. but she's always been that way, the hardworking type. she died at the hospital two days later. some of you may remember her: she came to freedom village late in the evening, to spend the night with pablo. pablo's hunger strike was, in large measure, for her: he had already lost his UNICCO job when he started it. our hearts go out to pablo and his family.

and just when you thought the student saga was over, with all of the students accepting the university's handing down of probation, community service (!), and some writing exercises, well, no, it isn't over. last thurday brian lemmerman, a STAND student, sued the university of miami:

A contract lawsuit filed Thursday in Miami-Dade Circuit Court accuses the University of Miami of unfairly disciplining a student who peacefully demonstrated against the school’s labor policies during a union drive by its janitors.

The suit, filed by Miami attorneys Lida Rodriguez and Kenneth Kukec, alleges that UM officials railroaded their client, Brian Lemmerman, by flouting the school’s disciplinary procedures and ignoring conflicts of interest. Kukec and Rodriguez claim that UM’s actions constitute a breach of contract.

(read the full article from the daily business review in the first comment).
in the miami herald, ana mendendez wrote a scathing piece on the lawsuit and its significance.

even the students who settled are not happy. like many of us, they feel that the proceedings cast a dangerous precedent on freedom of speech on campus. jane connolly, STAND's faculty advisor, has written two impassioned letters about two students whose hearings she was personally involved with. i'm reprinting both of them in full:

august 18:
Dear Colleagues,

I met this morning with Katharine Westaway, a graduate student who has been subjected to disciplinary action by the administration. She shared with me her concerns about the status of free speech for students on campus and the significance of this summer's disciplinary actions for students in the future. With Ms Westaway's permission, I share with you her experiences and concerns.

Ms Westaway, an MA student in English, is a senator in the Graduate Student Association. A week before receiving her summons, she was informed by James Fatzinger, Assistant Dean of Students, that she had been selected to serve on the honor council. (Does anyone besides Ms Westaway and me find this appointment ironic, given that she would soon face disciplinary charges at the time and that Mr. Fatzinger would subsequently serve as the judge for her hearing?) Since she would be away from campus for the entire summer and traveling for a portion of it, Ms. Westaway requested that her hearing be postponed until the fall. In this way, she could attend, present witnesses and be judged by a jury of her peers. As with all such requests, she was denied. On 29 June, while attending a program at Johns Hopkins, Ms Westaway participated in a "hearing" telephonically. I use quotation marks as it is clear that very little was actually *heard* by the administration in this or any other case.

Although she was asked if she wished to present witnesses, Ms Westaway wondered just how she would do this in the middle of summer when everyone had scattered and she herself wasn't present. The hearing was presided by Mr. Fatzinger who had also been present at the events where Ms Westaway's alleged violations occurred. Indeed, Mr. Fatzinger took photos of Ms Westaway in front of Ashe that she was asked to identify during her proceeding, as can be seen in a window reflection of Mr. Fatzinger seen in one of these photos. Can anyone say "conflict of interest"? (BTW: in all the photos, Ms Westaway is seated on the ground reading with tape over her mouth. How disorderly and disruptive is that?) The administration's case was presented by Gregory Singleton, Associate Dean of Students and therefore of higher rank than Mr. Fatzinger. It seems odd to have the judge have less power than the prosecutor/investigator, no? The hearing lasted about 45 mins. with a guilty verdict given immediately at the conclusion. Nothing like thoughtful reflection. Ms Westaway's punishment: 2 semesters of probation, 10 hrs. of community service, and a 500-word reflection. The relatively low number of hours of community service was because Mr. Singleton had only seen her in front of Ashe on one day. So, the prosecutor decides the severity of the punishment based on his own eyewitness experience? Again, can anyone say "conflict of interest"? Ms Westaway learned this week in an email from Mr. Singleton that she was late in completing the community service and the reflection. According to the email I saw, he said he sent a letter to her "about July 7" which informed her that the deadline for completion was 29 July. Mind you, he had been told that she was traveling for most of the summer, yet somehow expected her to receive this letter (which she still has not received) and
complete two-thirds of her punishment in three weeks.

Ms Westaway felt that she had virtually no rights in facing these disciplinary proceedings. She was not given a real opportunity to present her case with witnesses before her peers, nor could she have counsel (legal or academic) present to aid her. Quite simply, she was not accorded an impartial, democratic process. She is gravely concerned, as am I, that these hearings will set precedents for future disciplinary actions and that students will routinely be accorded no rights. She asks that we work to prevent this, for the sake of free speech and student rights.


Jane Connolly

august 21

Dear Colleagues,

On 7 July, a "hearing" was held for the disciplinary charges against Alyssa Cundari, a first-year student. With Ms Cundari's permission, I share with you some details from that hearing.

Dayle Wilson, Assistant Dean of Students, presided the case which Gregory Singleton, Associate Dean of Students, investigated and prosecuted. (I have already commented on this uneven power structure elsewhere.) The two witnesses for the prosecution were Richard Walker, Assistant Vice President for Student Affairs, and Keith Fletcher, Director of Butler Volunteer Services. The judge, investigator/prosecutor and two witnesses are all under the Student Affairs umbrella. Ms Cundari presented as witnesses two professors (Frank Palmeri and me) and a graduate student (Shelly Stromoski). I leave it to Dr. Palmeri and Ms Stromoski to tell you of their experiences, if the choose. I will share mine as they supplement Ms. Westaway's experience.

As with other students, Ms Cundari was not allowed to have her hearing postponed until the fall. She returned to Miami the day before the hearing to present her case, finding what witnesses she could in July. I was very impressed with Ms Cundari's composure, maturity and determination against the odds. In response to her questions, I attested to the following:

1. The students all behaved in an orderly fashion. It's hard to call a group of students disorderly when they stand with tape over their mouths and hum "We Shall Overcome," pray, or sit reading books on poverty. I noted that I grew up in Oakland in the 60s, during the rise of the Black Panthers and the Free Speech/Anti War movements, attended Berkeley as an undergraduate and taught at Wisconsin-Madison. I've seen disorderly conduct, and our students were always peaceful, orderly and respectful.

2. The students did not block access to Ashe. Following the initial demonstration, which Charles Steele and many clergy attended, they always made sure that doors were accessible. The administration took the decision to lock those doors, and thus obstructed access. I also witnessed the students helping people (students trying to get advising before registration, potential students and parents, etc.) find their way into Ashe since the administration simply locked the doors and provided no assistance to those wishing to enter to do business there.

3. As an administrator in Ashe at the time of Ms Cundari's alleged misconduct, I attested to the fact that the only complaints I received regarding access and disorderly conduct related to the administration. Faculty were especially disturbed by the way they were treated by security personnel, students found it difficult to get in to see advisors, and everyone (including the cops I spoke to) found the decision to turn on the sprinklers absurd. Indeed, the students were going to move from the entry of Ashe to the lawn until the sprinklers came on and eliminated that possibility.

4. Ms Cundari presented photographs of herself, asking me to identify what she was doing: she was sitting in front of Ashe reading. I further testified that I had seen her on other occasions studying for a Chemistry exam. I don't think that reading and studying are considered disorderly activities on most campuses.

5. I was present when Dean Sandler delivered many of his warnings. He simply told the students that they had to leave, but never said that a warning was final, never gave a deadline, never stated possible consequences. In other words, he never said: "If you do not leave by X hour, the following disciplinary charges will be brought." From my point of view, this was a mistake. I know from my discussions with students during the events in question that they were prepared to leave if they were given a final warning, something that Ms Westaway reconfirmed in my discussion with her last week. They simply weren't given that warning.

Mr. Singleton asked me only two questions. The first was about my familiarity with the students' rights and responsibilities handbook. Yes, and I'm appalled by the way it's being construed. (OK, I only said yes, not wanting to prejudice Ms Cundari's case.) The second was how familiar I was with the office of the Dean of Students and whether I had found that office to be fair in the past. I noted that I have been involved with issues ranging from academic dishonesty to inappropriate conduct, and had dealt almost exclusively with Dean Sandler, whom I always found to be fair. I had little experience with the other members of the office and therefore could not judge their fairness. He asked me no questions about Ms Cundari's conduct.

The independent testimony of two professors and a student did little to persuade Ms Wilson or Mr. Singleton. As in the case of Ms Westaway, Ms Cundari was found guilty at the conclusion of the hearing, with the same punishments as Ms Westaway. I have little doubt that the findings in both cases were predetermined. Do we really want students to be subjected to pro forma justice? If we tolerate this, who will be next?


Jane Connolly