Thursday, October 26, 2006

what diversity? the nova paradox

last saturday i went to little haiti for a community meeting about the nova situation. as readers of this blog know, the nova administration decided to put UNICCO's contract up for bid when it heard that UNICCO employees had voted to join the SEIU (the official union announcement came a few days after nova announced that the UNICCO contract had been cancelled). since nova did not commit to retaining the current workers, 340 janitors face being out of work as early as the end of the year. needless to say, these are not wealthy people who can easily find another job. their wages hover around $7 an hour and they get no health insurance and no benefits. the vast majority are minorities -- haitians or cubans or african americans. which makes friday night's celebration sad and pathetic: nova president ray ferrero jr. will be honored by the urban league of broward county as ``diversity champion.''

it is always been hard to separate racism from classism, or the discrimination of people based on race from the discrimination of people based on poverty. one, though, would not expect to see appalling reminders of jim crow in one of today's leading academic institutions: at nova, the haitian groundskeepers are not allowed to go inside air-conditioned buildings to drink from cold water fountains. no: they must drink from water hoses that have been sitting in the heat. this fight is not just for wages and security: this is a fight for basic dignity and human rights. this is a fight for the things most of us take absolutely for granted.

at nova last tuesday, democratic gubernatorial candidate jim davis talked to the janitors before debating republican counterpart charlie crist. it is not clear to me why the republican candidate didn't speak to the janitors too. unions are closer to the democratic than to the republican heart, but guaranteeing that people drink from fountains rather than hoses should be a concern that doesn't stop at party lines. mr davis said that when he's governor of the state of florida "you will not have to take to the streets... .we'll get it done." he didn't make clear how exactly he was going to accomplish that, but i'm sure the janitors liked the sound of these words.

in the meantime, we should make sure that nova president ferrero doesn't think we are not paying attention to the discrepancy between his diversity award and haitian janitors drinking from water hoses. give him a call: his phone number is (954) 262 7575.

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