Thursday, October 05, 2006

UNICCO employees at NOVA vote to unionize


Nova Southeastern University janitors OK union representation

Nova Southeastern University janitors will rally today for their newly formed union, although their company's contract with the school may be in jeopardy.


Nova Southeastern University janitors approve union representation

Janitors at Nova Southeastern University voted to create a union Wednesday. But because the university announced last week that it may rebid the janitorial contract, the union fight is far from over.

More than 60 percent of the 350 employees who do janitorial, maintenance and landscape work at the university's main Davie campus said Wednesday they wanted the Service Employees Internation Union to represent them. They are employed by contractor Unicco Services Co.

But NSU President Ray Ferrero said in an open letter Friday the university had begun to reevaluate those contract workers, effectively notifying Unicco it may lose its contract.

Labor experts say SEIU is prepared for another public campaign, similar to the one it waged against University of Miami earlier this year, to bring pressure on NSU to recognize the union, regardless of who the contractor is. If the university decides to fight, it could led to a protracted legal battle because of complex labor laws involved, they say.

After its success at UM, SEIU had been organizing janitors at Florida International University and NSU. FIU said last week it would bring its janitors in house and under its existing American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees union.

''Nova needs to do what other universities have done because it's the right thing to do,'' said SEIU's Stephen Lerner, who heads the union's national Justice for Janitors campaign.

NSU spokesman Dave Dawson said the vote Wednesday was between the workers and Unicco.

''We're still running a business and going to make the best business decisions we can to operate this university on behalf of the students,'' he said, adding the university has just begun to explore whether it would take positions in-house, outsource them or do a combination of the two.

Dawson said he couldn't speak to the timing of why the university had now decided to rebid the contract. ''The timing is what it is,'' he said.

In a statement, Boston-based Unicco said it was prepared to honor the workers' wishes to form a union, adding it was disappointed at NSU's actions to rebid its current contract. But it said it planned to bid again for the work.

NSU has contracted with Unicco to do that work for 12 years. NSU's main campus where those workers are is in Davie. The school also has seven other campuses in Florida and one in Las Vegas.

Given that, SEIU signing an agreement with Unicco is ''no guarantee those workers will keep their jobs at Nova,'' said Cornell University labor relations professor Rick Hurd. ``If Nova decides to bring in another contractor and not abide by the union agreement, it will be up to SEIU to challenge that.''

If the university accepts another contractor other than Unicco and all the old workers apply, NSU has to be careful not to subject itself to discrimination charges for not hiring the workers because they now belong to a union, said Gil Abramson, a partner with Hogan & Hartson in Washington and a former senior counsel to the National Labor Relations Board chairman.

If that happens, said Hurd: ``As you saw with University of Miami, [SEIU leaders] are very effective with their public campaign.''

That campaign continues with an afternoon rally today at a United Methodist church in Davie. SEIU plans to have community leaders and politicians lobby for the janitors.

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