Sunday, October 01, 2006

things not very cool at NOVA


NSU to redo janitor contract

Nova Southeastern University revealed plans to rebid a contract, even as a union drive heats up.


The president of Nova Southeastern University announced that the school will rebid a contract employing janitors and landscapers -- just as about 300 workers are on the verge of declaring they wish to form a union.

In an e-mail titled ''An Open letter from The President'' sent Friday, NSU President Ray Ferrero Jr. said a review ``concluded that some of the operations should be brought in house, and that we should contract with companies who specialize in other components of our operations.''

Ferrero cited janitorial, landscaping and shuttle-bus services as under review. He wrote that the current contractor, Boston-based UNICCO, would be given an opportunity to rebid the contract.

The plan comes as some 300 janitors and landscapers at the Davie university are a few days from announcing that more than 60 percent want to form a union, said Renee Asher, a spokeswoman for the Service Employees International Union. The union successfully organized a similar effort at the University of Miami this year.

Florida International University, part of the state system, announced last week that it would bring janitorial jobs back in house with significant pay raises, health care benefits and union representation.

Asher said the timing of Ferrero's e-mail, sent to a university official and apparently meant to be distributed to employees and students, warranted notice.

''Coincidentally, it came four days before the workers were expected to announce a majority support for the union,'' Asher said.

Mara Kiffin, an NSU spokeswoman, referred questions to David Dawson, executive director of University Relations. Dawson didn't return calls for comment. Ferrero could not be reached.

NSU employs some 330 janitors, landscapers, and maintenance workers, said Eric Brakken, an SEIU organizer. The workers would most likely be required to reapply for their jobs if the positions are brought in-house or if another contractor takes over, said Asher.

In April, The Miami Herald reported that the average wage for NSU's cleaning staff was $7.25 an hour but some workers start at $6.40 an hour. Workers are not offered healthcare coverage, although they can use the school's fee-based clinics.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' most recent guidelines say that a family of four needs to earn at least $20,000 a year, or $9.61 an hour, to be above the poverty level.

Wanda Rodrigues, an NSU custodian for 11 years who is involved in the union drive, said she viewed the move as an attempt to bust union organizing.

''Mr. Ferrero doesn't want the union,'' said Rodrigues, a 44-year-old Hollywood mother of two who makes $7.69 an hour. ``It's the best way for him to get rid of the workers in a legal way, a nice way.''

Earlier this year Ferrero wrote a letter indicating that the university wouldn't take a position on whether the janitors should unionize.

Once workers announce that a majority intend to form a union, they typically hold an election in order to be recognized.

The UNICCO contract reconsideration follows janitor organizing efforts at other South Florida universities. The University of Miami janitors approved a contract earlier this year following a high-profile campaign by SEIU that included walk outs and sit-ins.

FIU avoided such turmoil last week by unveiling a plan that aims to bring janitorial jobs back in house at pay increases of almost 50 percent plus health care. The janitors will join the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, which represents hundreds of FIU workers.

In April, NSU janitors engaged in a walkout for a couple of days to protest what they called unfair labor practices at the school.

In his e-mail, Ferrero wrote that ''significant consideration'' will be given to how UNICCO workers ``carry out their obligations to the university during the process.''

Asher was circumspect: ``We would hope that it's not an attempt to threaten workers from engaging in lawful union activity.''

Renee Asher SEIU Communications 202-255-4251

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