Friday, March 31, 2006

the UNICCO spin machine

we hate to give any publicity whatsoever to UNICCO's no-comments-allowed blog, universitytruth, so we'll let you google it if you want to see it. it is a very aggressive, bitter site that, frankly, speaks for itself.

today they posted this entry:

The End is Near
March 30th, 2006

With the deadline looming on its 30-day recognition strike, the SEIU has to end its picketing, chanting and tub-thumping today and the few striking workers have to come back to work. Meanwhile, a meeting between all the parties called for by UM President Donna Shalala will convene soon and we expect the message in that gathering will be clear: “Let ‘em vote.” The union really has no alternative except to try and bolster more support among students, but they will soon be departing for summer vacation. It’s over. I feel kind of sorry for the students whose heads have been filled with union mush. But, hey, students and protests used to go hand in hand and it’s actually good to see students seriously engaged in something other than keg parties. And, it’s the last chance they get to stick it to the man before they become the man.

let us make a couple of things clear:

first, the unicco workers are not engaged in a recognition strike. recognition strikes are strikes aimed at unionization. by law, they are allowed to go on for thirty days only [1]. the unicco workers are engaged in an unfair labor practices (ULP) strike. ULP strikes can go on indefinitely. that UNICCO is selling this strike as a recognition strike suggests to these writers that they are ready to start firing the workers any day now. this is of course illegal, but you know how it is with illegal things: sometimes they take time to be rectified, and when they are, the rectification is not always satisfactory.

the unfair labor practices the UNICCO workers at UM are striking against are various. very pointedly, they include the violation of their right to organize, including firing and suspension of workers involved in lawful organizing activities. so when UNICCO says "let 'em vote," one gets worried. because, you see, during the weeks and days prior to a secret ballot vote, the workers will be spending a heck of lot of time with their UNICCO surpervisors. and one is hard pressed not to imagine that those supervisors will do all sorts of things to "persuade" them that unionization is a really bad idea. just look at UNICCO's no-comments-allowed blog. do these guys strike you as fair, caring, and hands-off? if so, we have a bridge we'd like to sell you.

long story short, a secret ballot election is a bizarre thing to go for when the workers are complaining that the employer is violating their right to organize. a secret ballot election does not include a commitment of neutrality, which leaves the employer free to wage war against the union from a very strong position of power over the workers. we have covered card check elsewhere, so won't go into the technicalities of it again. but card check is a much more relaxed process. it takes a few days. the workers can talk among themselves, go home, mull it over, consult the union, consult their families. there's not the same kind of pressure. almost universally, workers prefer it. it's not difficult to see why.

second, keg partying is not the sole activity of UM students. it is not even the activity UM students mostly engage in. how dare UNICCO insult our students thus? has UNICCO met them in classrooms and hallways? does UNICCO know them by their names? has UNICCO seen how hard they work and how serious they are? obviously not. we, on the other hand, have. and we have seen an awful lot of students who, far from wanting to stick it to the man, are all into sticking with their fellow human beings.

the students who sat in ashe for 14 hours on tuesday were not on a high-jinks kick. they had absolutely nothing to gain from doing what they did. they risked a lot -- including the abuse of disrespectful people like the writers of universitytruth -- for the sake of total strangers. these are the university of miami students.

as for summer vacation, the workers are not going anywhere and we bet the students who have fought for them won't go anywhere either. these are not students who are easily deterred. just in case you didn't notice.


[1] let us be really precise on this: what cannot go on past 30 days is recognitional picketing. the workers can stay on strike for as long as their (non-existent) savings accounts allow.


it's just after 10 AM on friday, march 31. what a fitting day for negotiators from all parties finally to meet around the same table! the strike started exactly one month ago, on march 1, ash wednesday.

in about two hours, for the first time ever, workers, SEIU reps, students, and faculty of the university of miami will sit down with UM administrators and UNICCO officials to discuss "the situation." the situation is that, after one month of striking, UNICCO workers still don't have a living wage, health insurance (though a package has been announced by president shalala), and the union representation they want.

it's hard not to be emotional about today. however the negotiations go, it is grand that we got here. the workers are no longer invisible. they have a seat at the table. a lot of sweat has been poured for this to happen. a janitor was fired. striking and non-striking workers have been harassed and cajoled into returning to work (the former) or supporting NLRB elections, the method of union selection UNICCO is insisting on in this situation (the latter). as you know, the workers want card check. this blog has covered the difference between the two repeatedly. but you don't have to read our entries to figure out that if the workers are pushing for one method of unionization and their employer is pushing for another, maybe, just maybe, the one the employer wants is not the one that's most conducive to the achievement of the workers' true wishes. in any case, the workers should be able to choose to unionize in whichever legal way they prefer. do you see a problem with this? for all i'm worth, i don't.

let our thoughts be with our workers and students and faculty today at noon. a month is a long time to strike for people who live hand to mouth, with no savings and no safety net. if you were out by the ashe building on tuesday, though, you wouldn't have known these extraordinary people had a month of privations, harassment, and anxiety behind them. as long as the students stayed in the admissions office, the workers cheered. i'm talking 14 hours. i'm talking people in their 50s and 60s with little or no access to health care. i'm not talking gym-going, latte drinking youngsters.

walking back and forth from the negotiations, the president turned to the workers who were glued to the glass doors of ashe and flashed them the thumbs up. towards the end, the thumbs came down and the president put her index fingers to her lips. the workers' cheers went up a few decibels. sorry, dr. shalala. i don't think these people can be shushed.

i remember two occasions on which president shalala mentioned the importance of doing "the right thing." the first time was after katrina, when tulane students needed relocating. in a message to the university community, the president said we would take some of them. "it's the right thing to do," she said.

when, a couple of weeks ago, she announced raising the campus contract workers paychecks by a couple of dollars, president shalala said it again: it's the right thing to do.

dr. shalala, do it again today. do the right thing. allow these people decent salaries, health insurance, and dignity. respect their right to unionize whichever way they want, not the way UNICCO wants or you prefer. it's the right thing to do. they are dying to get back to work. and we are dying to see them back.

giovanna pompele

here is the list of negotiators as announced by the university this morning.

at 11:45 we'll walk to the administration building delivering a letter signed by nationally recognized figures. we are meeting at the episcopal church, the strike sanctuary. be there. be counted.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Reflections on the Forum

I just got back from the student-organized forum this afternoon and I thought I'd share a few things that were said.

First, Jill Hurst, who works for the SEIU and has dealt with UNICCO in many different places around the country, confirmed that UNICCO uses card check recognition very frequently. Off-the-cuff, she estimated that UNICCO has around 8,500 unionized employees. Of these, around 7,000 are with SEIU, and of these, all but about 100 were unionized via card check. She also noted that UNICCO prides itself on being a client-centered company. I leave you to draw your own conclusions.

Secondly, Michael Fischl spoke very eloquently to the issue of card check versus NLRB elections. As you all know, President Shalala has said that she cannot go against the idea of a federally-run secret ballot. She also suggested that such a ballot is exactly the kind of thing that many of the UNICCO workers left their own countries to enjoy. Michael pointed out that NLRB elections are elections in which only one side even knows who and how many the voters are, only one side has regular access to the voters, only one side can hire and fire the voters, or raise or lower their pay. This is surely not the kind of 'democracy' that anyone came to America for.

And Jill Hurst added, in response to a question that card check is supposed to allow the union oppportunity to coerce the workers, that the union does not have any power over them. Unlike UNICCO, there is simply nothing SEIU could do, even if it wanted, to force someone to sign a card. The only means they would have of coercing anyone is by threatening physical violence, and no-one, not even UNICCO, has suggested, let alone proved, that anything of that sort has ever been done by SEIU.

Simon Evnine

help deliver a petition tomorrow to president shalala and trustee colson

tomorrow at noon, right when the talks between um, unicco, seiu, students, faculty and workers begin, a group of faculty from barry, st thomas, fiu and mdc will deliver a petition to donna shalala and trustee colson on behalf of the National Workers' Rights Board. the petition is signed by a variety of luminaries, including barbara ehrenreich and howard zinn, and supports the right of the unicco employees to form a union by whatever means they choose. the faculty from the other universities ask that um faculty join them. this is not a rally but an orderly delegation of faculty members to present a letter to the president.

we will meet at the episcopal church (strike sanctuary) at 11.45am on friday march 31st and walk over to ashe shortly thereafter. please come and join us. this is a great and easy way to show your solidarity. the whole event should last no more than about 45 minutes.

Two new accounts of Ashe Tuesday - one from a student 'inside'

Here is an account of the occupation by Liza Alwes, one of the students occupying the Admissions Office on Tuesday March 28th:

First, the rally Tuesday at Stanford and Ponce (estimated at 300 people) moved to occupy all four corners of the US-1 and Stanford [actually, it was Granada] intersection. Clergy and workers sat down in the middle of US-1 to draw attention to the continued plight of workers and were arrested within 10 minutes.

At half past noon, 19 students and university chaplain Father Frank Corbishley entered the Admissions Office in the ground floor of Ashe and refused to leave until almost 2:00 in the morning. We intended to stay until our demands, as outlined by the statement "Why We Are Sitting In," were met. In a nutshell, we were hoping they would provide a living wage and benefits to all workers and recognize the workers' decision to unionize via card check.

We entered the office around half past noon, and soon shared the ground floor with not only a bunch of faculty and our outside delegation but about 10 police officers (a number which grew throughout the time we were there, to about 30, complete with canine unit, riot gear, and paddy wagon – just in case our non-violent demonstration got wildly out of control). We linked arms and sang the "Alma Mater" about two hundred times.

We were told that we could be suspended, expelled, or arrested, charged with trespassing, and kept in the Miami-Dade prison overnight if we didn't leave. When we did leave, we were given amnesty from all academic and legal punishments. While we were in the Admissions Office, police officers guarded the restrooms to prevent us from peeing anywhere other than the Admissions Office – guys in empty water bottles, girls in a trash can (complete with "Scoop Away" brand kitty litter).

Outside, two hundred people or more – workers, faculty, students, organizers, and media – surrounded the Ashe Building all day long, even until the very early morning, shouting and chanting almost incessantly.

In the afternoon, President Shalala held a meeting. Jane Connolly, Vice Dean of Arts and Humanities, reported [text in the post Ashe Tuesday].

Throughout the day, after the failure of the original meeting, we had meetings inside the Admissions Office with Dr. Whitely, Vice President of Student Affairs, and later with President Shalala, the Provost, and the Dean.

Finally, in consultation with us, the administrators wrote this document.

Here's the story as told by the South Florida Interfaith Committee for Worker Justice:

On Tuesday, March 28th, many clergy, community members, UM students, and UM faculty gathered at the strike sanctuary to demonstrate our support for UM janitors. We then marched together down US 1 to the Granada intersection where we joined the UM janitors and waited for an opportune moment to crowd the crosswalks of that intersection. At that time, as a symbol of solidarity, a number of workers, clergy, and community members who felt so moved formed concentric circles in the middle of US 1 to partake in an act of nonviolent civil disobedience. In the end, 17 of us were arrested and then we prayerfully proceeded to the Coral Gables jail.

While that was happening, a group of students, lead by STAND (Students Toward a New Democracy) and accompanied by Fr. Frank Corbishley entered the Bowman Foster Ashe Building on the UM campus attempting to meet with university President Donna Shalala. The group began its sit-in in the admissions office to request a meeting with Shalala regarding the new policy on wages and benefits for all university and contractual employees. Demonstrators were not allowed to use the restroom facilities nor were they allowed water. After being threatened with expulsion and arrest, students met with Shalala four times over the duration of approximately 13 hours. Around 1:30 a.m., Shalala agreed to meet with students, faculty, and labor groups to reach a fair agreement, protecting the janitors’ right to unionize.

And there's a great story in the Miami Sun Post, with photos by Carlos Miller, who was in the lobby of Ashe until about 4.30, when the police threw him out, and was outside Ashe until the very end.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Two important events to choose from for Thursday March 30th

Please try to attend one of these very important events, scheduled for Thursday March 30th:

a) A sunset "seder" at the Venerable Bede Episcopal Church on Stanford Drive at 5pm. Workers, studends and faculty can gather together for a meal on the eve of the negotiations between the university and the workers, which it now appears will begin on Friday March 31st.

b) A student-organized forum to discuss the issue of card check recognition versus NLRB elections, also from 5-7pm, at the UC Ballroom B. Faculty, please encourage your students to attend this educational event. Extra credit assignments (in which, of course, students can write from any point of view they want) would be an excellent method of getting people there. (Note: in an effort to get all parties to have a voice, STAND invited speakers from both UNICCO and the administration. Neither has replied).

A teach-in is being organized by faculty for next Wednesday, April 5th, 6-8pm. Details will be posted ASAP. Watch this space.

President Shalala's message to students

the president sent this to the students today at 4:30. click here for the original message.

A Message from President Shalala

Dear Students:

What on earth is going on at the University of Miami? It would be easy to say we are simply caught between a rock and a hard place. We are, but that is not unusual in a complex university. People hired me because I don’t mind being in impossible situations. While there is still some grumbling about our new wage and healthcare policy for our contract workers, we have a solid plan and it is being implemented as I write.

Why, then, did 15 students end up in the foyer of the Admissions Office at 1:00 am talking to me about their frustration with the university. Basically, they want the university to tell one of our contractors, UNICCO, to accept cards that the union, SEIU, has had UNICCO employees sign requesting union recognition. The union argues that collecting signatures as an indication of what the employees want is better and fairer than a secret, federal government (National Labor Relations Board) supervised vote. The contractor, UNICCO, has called for the secret ballot procedure supervised by the NLRB (it should be noted that recognizing a union on the basis of cards is optional under the law; recognizing a union under a secret ballot election is mandated by the law).

Both sides have accused the other of intimidating the UNICCO employees to support or not support the union and to sign or not sign the cards. The students who sat in yesterday support the SEIU position. They wanted the university to share their view. They believe the NLRB process takes too long and is flawed. As I explained to them, we are neutral on the process – the union and the contractor need to work that out. However, when pushed on why we couldn’t just choose to support the card-signing system, I pointed out that the university simply could never take a position against a secret ballot procedure supervised by a federal government agency. Secret ballots are at the heart of our democratic system. In fact, many of the UNICCO employees in our community came to this country precisely because of our free (and secret ballot) elections.

I also reiterated the university’s very strong position that we believe that no one should be coerced or intimidated or fear for their job because they are for or against unions. We will not tolerate contractors who break the law. We insist that everyone who works, studies or receives care at the university be treated with respect and dignity.

So – back to the rock and a hard place. I suggested last night that everyone sit down and see if they can find a third option that is free from intimidation. We need a fair democratic process for the employees of UNICCO to decide whether or not they want SEIU to represent them, free from intimidation or coercion from either side, or concern about their job stability. That discussion will begin Friday at noon.

In addition, I want to repeat the university’s policy on demonstrations, protests and free speech – all are welcome and are part of the fabric of American higher education. However, no one has the right to coerce or intimidate another member of our community. Nor do they have the right to interfere with anyone’s right to study, teach, do research, provide for our patients or do the university’s other business.

I believe universities are sacred places on this earth. Those of us who are responsible for your education have special responsibilities. Those responsibilities are not easy to do – as you will observe during your years at this special university.

I’ll try to keep you posted from my perch on the rock, next to the hard place.

Your President, Donna E. Shalala

ashe tuesday

it's tuesday march 28, the 28th day of the janitors' strike, and the janitors still don't have a living wage (their raise is below living-wage level), health insurance (only the promise of a package), or representation (both UNICCO and UM refuse to acknowledge their "super-majoritarian" request for card-check union recognition). these brave people (some of them UM janitors for as long as 25 years) have gone for a whole month without their much-needed paychecks, and have endured constant harassment from UNICCO, which has unlawfully used threats against them to get them to go back to work.

spearheaded by coral gables clergy, a demonstration of faculty and students leaves campus to meet the workers at US1 and Grenada:

with the workers, we are about 300 people. we divide up at the four corners of the intersection:

clergy, workers, and others sit down in the middle of the intersection as an expression of solidarity with the UNICCO workers and are promptly arrested (the coral gables police has been notified in advance):

around this time, we hear that a group of students has peacefully taken over the admissions office in the ashe building in the coral gables campus. we run back. by the time we get there, the building has been secured by police, but many of us still manage to get in. the students are in a circle in the admissions office, which gives onto the main lobby, singing "we shall overcome". father frank corbishley is with them:

outside, a vociferous crowd of janitors shouts its support of the students:

at this point, only faculty, many of whom have their offices in the building, are allowed entry into ashe. but that is sporadic. the police have restricted access to the bathroom, the vending machines, the drinking fountain, the stairs, and the elevators, but are letting some faculty use them.

around 4:30, president shalala calls a meeting with the students in the flamingo ballroom in the university center. the students inside the admission office refuse to leave, so a delegation of student and faculty negotiators is sent. this is a report of the meeting by jane connolly, a faculty member of the negotiating team. along with some ten other faculty members, jane has been inside the lobby of the ashe building since the occupation was announced. she, like all of us, fears that the students are vulnerable to arrest if we leave, so deciding to go is not easy:

President Shalala called for a meeting with students and faculty in the Flamingo Ballroom. Both groups were hesitant to attend believing they wouldn’t be allowed to return. Finally, two from each group in Ashe (though not occupying the admissions office) attended. The students asked that their lawyers be allowed to attend and were denied, with President Shalala saying that the meeting was just for students and faculty. Students explained their demands that the harassment of the workers by Unicco cease and the workers be allowed to unionize by the process they select. President Shalala said that complaints of harassment are for the NLRB to resolve and that the NLRB will have a hearing. She said that she supports the workers’ right to unionize through the democratic process, mentioning the NLRB elections. She asserted that the NLRB process allows for the workers to decide without coercion. We pointed out that labor studies contradict this view, showing that workers are subject to substantial intimidation when an NLRB election has been called. (For this, visit the FAQ with supporting studies on picketine). We asked if she would urge Unicco to let the workers express their views regarding the union in the democratic fashion of their choosing, a card check campaign or an NLRB election. She would not. When we asked why Unicco will not accept a card check when it has done so at other sites, a lawyer from Fowler White Burnett said that Unicco has never recognized a card check. (This claim is untrue: Unicco has recognized card checks for all its employees in the state of NJ, in Washington DC and in New Haven, as well as for some workers in Boston.) Several people asked why, if students weren’t allowed to have their lawyers present, an outside lawyer was there. The question was met with a smile. Asking why the air conditioning in the admissions office was turned off and why they won’t be allowed to bring water in, the President responded that they didn’t want to feed the strike. Once the students confirmed that their demands would not be met, they left. These students were not allowed to return.

the meeting is followed closely by the students on the inside, who communicate via cellphone with their negotiators.

at 5 o'clock, the ashe building is cleared of everyone except the students, police, and members of the administration. a vigil is called outside. students and faculty speak in support of the workers and the students inside. people hold candles.

mary elizabeth, alana, and beni for the students:

frank palmeri (english) for the faculty:

this is all very emotional. the students have been inside without access to the bathroom for 5 hours at this point. the ashe lobby is full of police officers. the first negotiations with the administration broke down. there's a mixture of anxiety, exhilaration, and deep emotion in the crowd outside.

night comes and the students are still inside. the entrance hall of ashe is full of police. pat whitely, vice-dean for student affairs, has been in to talk to them. there are reports that the administration is threatening the students with arrest, suspension, and even expulsion. from the outside, we see them pace back and forth or huddle around in a circle: they seem very concentrated, very focused. people who talk to them on the cell phone report that, though psychologically tried, they are strong in wanting their requests met: living wage and health insurance for the workers; acknowledgment of the workers' right to unionize by a method of their choice; no reprisals against striking workers or students participating in the sit-in.

the ashe lobby packed with police officers. in the back of ashe there are as many as 20 police cars, plus a paddy wagon.

no water no bathrooms.

As the water bottles empty, the urine bottles fill up.

as the night goes on, far from diminishing, the crowd grows. pup tents are put up on the lawn. some students conduct study groups. others play volleyball. workers chat. some, exhausted and cold, doze off. people mill around. we are some 200 strong, at both entrances of ashe. at one point or another, all the 5 local tv channels are present, along with the miami herald and other newspapers. and all through this, through the studying and the chatting and the dozing, the crowd chants loudly, almost non-stop. we need the students and the administration to know that we are here for the long haul.

a little after 8 pm president shalala agrees to meet with the students on their own turf, with only one condition: that father corbishley be out of the room. after a longish deliberation, the group rejects the condition. the students feel too vulnerable without father corbishley in the room and the police surrounding them. more time passes. eventually the students agree to have father corbishley sit just outside the admissions office, in the ashe building lobby, allowed to re-enter the moment the meeting with the president is over. a series of meetings starts. the students and the president meet for 30 or 40 minutes, then break, then meet again.

the crowd cheers on, tirelessly.

president shalala exits the admissions office at the end of the negotiations.

at about 1:30 it is announced that a mutually satisfactory agreement has been reached. everyone rushes to the back of ashe, where the students emerge in good spirits and good health. tanya and mewelau immediately convene a press conference in which they announce that the university is releasing a statement to the Associated Press to the effect that within 48 hours a group made up of workers, STAND students, faculty, law school faculty, the SEIU, UNICCO, and the administration will convene to discuss the situation. the crowd erupts in cheers as we all rush to embrace the students.

here are the exact words of the statement issued by the university and read by tanya and mewelau:

Statement from the University of Miami
March 29, 2006

The University of Miami today affirmed its commitment to the following:

    • There have been claims of coercion and intimidation regarding the hourly employees of UNICCO Service Company working at the University of Miami. The University will not tolerate coercion or intimidation of anyone on its campuses or unjustified dismissals. The University will send letters to the CEO of UNICCO Service Company and to the president of the SEIU stating that the University will not tolerate such tactics.

    • The University reiterates its position not to employ contractors who do not respect workers’ rights to unionize and commits to encouraging UNICCO and the SEIU to adopt a process that will provide the employees of UNICCO with the ability to determine whether or not they want union representation free of any coercion or intimidation.

    • The University encourages the SEIU and UNICCO to commence a dialogue with respect to allowing the UNICCO employees an opportunity to decide whether or not they want union representation and how that determination will be made. In this regard, a meeting will be convened within 48 hours with the following representatives invited: SEIU, UNICCO, UNICCO contract employee leaders, S.T.A.N.D., UM faculty, and UM law faculty. The University officials will be at this meeting regardless of which parties show up.

    • The right to express opinions is a core value of the University community. All members of the UM community possess the freedom to advance personal political or social positions insofar as the exercise of freedom of expression does not inhibit the rights of other members of the community or interfere with University business.

# # #

Media Contact: Margot Winick / 305-284-5500


Just another quick post. It's 2.30 am, early Wednesday morning. At about 1.30 am Father Frank Corbishley and the students occupying the Admissions Department in Ashe came out of the building, unarrested, unexpelled and in good health. In return for their leaving, Donna Shalala released a statement to the Associated Press (we have not double-checked that) that within 48 hours there will be good faith talks to resolve the situation with the participation of the administration, the faculty, the law faculty, the students, UNICCO, the SEIU and the workers themselves. This will be the first time the workers' voices will have been officially heard (not to mention the voices of some of the other parties).

This is an incredible step forward. The students were magnificent and this achievement is due to their courage and integrity. They were prepared to stay there for as long as necessary; they were prepared to get arrested and possibly expelled. We thank the administration for acknowledging their dedication and the righteousness of their cause.

The struggle continues. The next 48 hours are crucial. We must keep up the pressure and ensure that things happen as promised.

Stay informed and stay active. We are winning.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

from the trenches

I'll replace this post tomorrow when I can put up something proper, but for those of you out there seeking news, this is what has been happening today.

At 12 noon a group of local clergy accompanied by faculty, workers and others marches from the Strike Sanctuary to the intersection of Granada and US1 where they joined a large group of striking workers. Altogether we were about 300 people. The traffic was blocked in both directions on US1 and a group of clergy and workers sat down in the middle of the road and... were promptly arrested. As planned.

We then began to get messages telling us to go to Ashe urgently, and when we arrived we found a group of about 15 students, plus Father Frank Corbishley, had occupied the Admissions Office. By 12.45 or so, the building was immediately secured by the police and it became difficult to impossible to go in or out. A largish group of faculty, students and others were trapped in the lobby of Ashe. Access to the bathroom, the drinking fountain and the vending machine was sporadic for faculty and nearly impossible for others. The students occupying Admissions had no access to bathrooms. Outside of Ashe a large group, mostly comprised of workers, assembled and chanted all afternoon.

Finally, at 5 o'clock, the whole of Ashe was emptied, with the exception of the occupiers. Since then, a vigil has been maintained outside the building and is going on as I write this.

President Shalala has been in to talk to the occupiers (with the exception of Father Frank, whom she insists leaves the room), so far with no concrete results. The students still have been given no access to bathrooms. The vigil will continue as long as the students are inside. If you are reading this and have any inclination, come and show up, even for a little.

Pictures and more tomorrow. In the meantime, read the on-site blow-by-blow posts on Michael Froomkin's blog.

Simon Evnine

Monday, March 27, 2006

today's SEIU press release: a "super" majority

MIAMI, March 27 /PRNewswire/

University of Miami striking janitors announced today they reached a "super" majority or 57 percent of striking and nonstriking janitors who want the right to decide for themselves how to form a union. Janitors at the University of Miami went on strike 27 days ago to protest unfair labor practices committed against workers who support the union.

Both striking and nonstriking janitors signed the cards calling for UNICCO to allow them, and not the company, to decide what type of election they want to pursue. Card-check elections are a very common and worker friendly way for janitors to join the union. On the other hand, during NLRB elections employers can drag out the process and stop workers from having a union by throwing up a long string of legal roadblocks that can take years to resolve.

Public attention generated by the strike has inspired janitors at other sites to step up efforts to form a union, and has created a sense of hope in South Florida that good jobs can be fought for and won.

UNICCO allows janitors to choose card-check elections in New Jersey, Massachusetts, Washington, D.C., Maryland, and Connecticut. However, in Miami, UNICCO has publicly refused to allow the janitors to choose a card-check election; instead they have embarked on anti-union campaign to intimidate workers from organizing with Local 11 and insisted that the janitors subject themselves to a NLRB election that could take years.

The janitors signed the cards despite threats from UNICCO over the past week that janitors would be fired for striking. "They called me over the weekend and said that If I didn't go back to work that they would fire me," said janitor Elmis Loredo. "Their words were supposed to send a chill through the whole community. But we will not be intimidated any longer. We have won a great deal, not just for us, but for all the workers on campus. And now our success is spreading hope to other workers that they too can win better wages and affordable health insurance."

Even though janitors are on strike for unfair labor practices and therefore cannot be fired, UNICCO has been contacting janitors and trying to send a chill through the strike by telling workers they can be fired for striking. While NLRB rules do allow companies to legally fire the striking employees after 30 days if the employees are striking to force a company to recognize a union, they do not allow companies to fire workers who are on strike to protest unfair labor practices.


Have you read our FAQ posted yesterday about why the strike continues? If so, you're ready to take our current events quiz!

What’s the difference between a fair union selection process and an NLRB election conducted after the employer has unlawfully fired, threatened, and interrogated union supporters and spied on their meetings?

(a) No difference at all.

(b) UNICCO doesn’t want a fair union selection process.

(c) About three years.

Answer key:

If you answered (a), you must be a member of the UM administration. Otherwise, UM officials presumably wouldn’t keep calling for an NLRB election. But answer (a) is wrong!

If you answered (b), you are right. If UNICCO really wanted a fair union selection process, it would not have unlawfully threatened union supporters with reprisals, unlawfully interrogated workers about the union, unlawfully interfered with the right of its workers to discuss the union and to participate in after-hours union functions, and unlawfully conducted surveillance of a union meeting. But according to a complaint issued by the National Labor Relations Board, that’s exactly what UNICCO has done. And according to an article in the Orlando Sentinel, on the eve of the strike UNICCO fired a leading union supporter after she spoke with a reporter about the union. (An unfair labor practice charge challenging the firing is still pending before the NLRB.)

If you answered (c), you are right as well. Under NLRB procedures, it will take at least two to three years to resolve all of the unfair labor practice charges against UNICCO, and, even if the NLRB conducted an election between now and then, the results would not be final until the end of that process.

The SEIU wants to avoid all of that delay by presenting proof – in the form of the signatures it has collected from hundreds of UNICCO workers – that those workers desire union representation. The SEIU is willing to provide those signatures to a neutral party (chosen with UNICCO’s assent) to verify their authenticity, and that process – which has been used in hundreds of union campaigns over the past decade and has even been used many times by UNICCO itself – would take no more than a matter of days to finish.

So there’s the choice : Three years or a few days. If you were a UNICCO worker, which would you prefer?

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Why the strike continues: new FAQ

1. President Shalala recently announced an increase in wages and affordable health benefits for all contract employees, so why aren’t the UNICCO workers satisfied with this and back at work?

Who wouldn’t be pleased with increased compensation? Although the new compensation is still considerably below the Miami-Dade living wage (see the Faculty Senate report for a fuller explanation), the workers we talk to are uniformly gratified to see increased wages. Nonetheless, they didn’t go on strike to achieve this goal. They are on strike to protest unfair labor practices by their employer.

After investigating charges made by the workers, in January the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) found that there was “reasonable cause to believe” that the charges were true and issued a complaint (tantamount to an indictment in labor law) alleging that UNICCO violated US labor law by committing the following unfair labor practices:

  • Interrogating workers about their union support;
  • Prohibiting them from talking about the union at work;
  • Forcing them to sign a statement disavowing the union;
  • Accusing them of disloyalty for participating in off-hours union functions;
  • Threatening reprisals against union supporters;
  • Conducting unlawful surveillance of a union meeting.

A hearing is scheduled for the end of May but may be delayed owing to new charges now under investigation by the NLRB relating to UNICCO’s firing of one of the leading union supporters after she gave an interview to a journalist writing a story about the union campaign.

And the intimidation has increased since President Shalala’s announcement of improved wages. The Rev. Frank Corbishley (Chaplain at the Chapel of the Venerable Bede on the Gables campus) wrote to the South Florida Interfaith Committee for Worker Justice: “One worker told me that last Saturday [18 March] UNICCO called him 17 times, pressuring him to return to work. Many workers receive phone calls from their UNICCO supervisors, some threatening to fire the workers if they do not return to work.” Additionally, striking workers have reported threats from UNICCO that they may forfeit to return the new raise if they don’t return to work, and non-striking workers have threatened with firing if they don’t publicly endorse an NLRB election.

2. Now that they’ve received an improved compensation package, do the workers still want to unionize?

We won’t know for certain how many workers want to unionize until they are allowed to express their views in a manner of their choosing. Nonetheless, there are a number of faculty who have had multiple conversations on the subject with UNICCO workers whom they know either from years of living on campus or from research they have been doing on immigrant populations in South Florida. And the faculty in question report that the workers uniformly express support for unionization. The issues that concern the workers relate not just to compensation but to their working conditions, their right to be treated with dignity, and their right to have a voice in future decisions that affect their working lives. We certainly don’t think we can speak for even the workers we know, however, and would rather they do so for themselves. Indeed, you may read some of their comment here, and we invite you to meet with the workers to hear their views and to ask questions. We will arrange a meeting for faculty and workers during the week of April 3rd.

3. If the University administration was able to improve compensation for the workers, is a union really needed?

Again, that’s for the workers to decide. We point out, however, that the Faculty Senate and undergraduate student government urged the administration to offer a living wage to the workers in 2001, but the administration did nothing to address compensation for well over four years. The administration’s largesse only came with the threat of unionization and the pressure of public opinion, and there’s no guarantee that there will be future improvements without continued pressure. Without the ability to negotiate for themselves, the workers have little way to guarantee further salary increases or appropriate affordable health coverage (what the UM administration or contractors consider affordable may not be viewed as such by the workers), much less safe working conditions and respect in the work place. While the faculty may not be unionized, we have well-defined and long-standing rights, privileges and obligations, and mechanisms in place to defend these, all outlined in the Faculty Manual. We also have representation that we select to negotiate with the administration on issues relating to salaries, health care, retirement, job security, working conditions, etc. Shouldn’t the workers have the same rights we enjoy?

4. OK, if the workers want a union, why are they insisting on a card check instead of an NLRB election? After all, UNICCO says it’s willing to have an NLRB election.

There are multiple answers to this question. First and at present foremost, the NLRB will not conduct an election, even if the workers agree that this is an acceptable resolution, until the NLRB complaint against UNICCO is heard and resolved. So, UNICCO’s call for an NLRB election is more than a bit disingenuous. Even if an election were possible, though, the workers would unquestionably insist on a card check simply because they view it as a fairer and less threatening process. The election process allows for greater intimidation by the employer than the card check process, as revealed by numerous studies. In a recent study whose results were released last week, two professors at Rutgers and Wheeling Jesuit University conducted a telephone survey of workers at sites where employees sought to unionize using NLRB elections or card check campaigns. The respondents included workers who had voted for and against the union and were from campaigns in which the union won and lost. The findings are revealing with regards to NLRB elections and card check campaigns:

  • Workers in NLRB elections were twice as likely (46% vs. 23%) as those in card check campaigns to report that management coerced them to oppose the union.
  • Workers in NLRB elections were 53% more likely than those in card check campaigns to report that management threatened to eliminate jobs, and 28% more likely to report that management discriminated against union supporters.
  • Fewer workers in card check campaigns than in elections felt pressure from coworkers to support the union (17% vs. 22%). Fewer than one in twenty (4.6%) workers who signed a card with a union organizer reported that the presence of the organizer made them feel pressured to sign the card.
  • Workers in card check campaigns were almost twice as likely as those in elections (62% vs. 33%) to report that management took a neutral position and left the decision to form a union up to workers. [1]

This survey complements the alarming findings of a 2005 study published by the University of Chicago’s Center for Urban Economic Development. [2] That study showed that in 62 union campaigns conducted in Chicago in 2002:

  • 30% of employers fire pro-union workers.
  • 49% of employers threaten to close a worksite when workers try to form a union.
  • 51% of employers coerce workers into opposing unions with bribery or favoritism.
  • 82% of employers hire union-busting consultants to fight organizing drives.
  • 91% of employers force employees to attend one-on-one anti-union meetings with supervisors.

One of the study’s co-authors, Nik Theodore, confirms that the “research clearly shows that firings, bribes, and threats are pervasive and that these actions greatly impede workers’ ability to form unions.” [3] In reviewing the pros and cons of NRLB elections vs. card check campaigns, Steven Greenhouse cites the following example in a recent New York Times article:

At the Consolidated Biscuit bakery in McComb, Ohio, Bill Lawhorn said more than 70 percent of the workers had signed cards in favor of joining the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers Union when he led efforts to form a union in 2002. Nonetheless, the union lost a secret-ballot election, 485 to 286, after Consolidated Biscuit conducted a vigorous anti-union campaign. Two years later a National Labor Relations Board judge found that managers had illegally spied on union supporters and had warned them that the bakery would go bankrupt if a union was voted in. Mr. Lawhorn was fired the day after the unionization vote. The labor board judge ordered him and six other workers reinstated, ruling that they were illegally fired for supporting a union.” [4]

Given the evidence, were you a UNICCO worker, would you prefer an NLRB election or a card check campaign? We think the answer is clear.

A final point: NLRB elections are inordinately slow processes. In the typical case, it takes weeks or even months for the agency to schedule an election, and the post-election appeals process can take two to three years. To cite a local example from a previous FAQ, the NLRB conducted an election at Pan American Hospital in 2004 in which fully 97% of the employees voted for unionization, but it took the agency nine months to certify the results, and – more than two years after the election -- the employer has yet to agree to a contract.

As we have learned from recent elections in Florida, democracy is messy. It ought not be this messy, though.

5. Still, isn’t an NLRB election a more democratic process?

No. For a union to be selected in an NLRB election, only a majority of those voting is required. A card check campaign requires that a majority of those eligible to vote support a union before it may be selected. So, for a union to be selected in a card check campaign, a greater number of workers must actually indicate their preference for the union than is required for an NLRB election. [5] Additionally, we regularly join organizations that represent our views by signing up instead of voting. As Bruce Raynor, President of Unite Here (a union representing restaurant, hotel and apparel workers), notes: “''A worker can join a church or synagogue or the Republican Party by signing a card. That's how people join organizations in the United States. The idea that workers can't join a union by signing their name is ludicrous.'' [6] And UNICCO has allowed card check campaigns in lieu of NLRB elections for workers wanting to unionize at other sites. Why is Unicco now claiming that the process is undemocratic and insisting that UNICCO workers at UM participate in an NLRB election?

6. How often is a card check campaign used instead of an NRLB election, and why do employers object to them?

Card check agreements have been around for a long time and are a legal, recognized process for union formation. Not all employers object to card check campaigns, which are now more frequent than NLRB elections. According to the previously cited New York Times article, card check campaigns have been used to sign up about 70% of the workers who unionized last year: “150,000 private-sector workers joined unions in 2005. Over the past year, the procedure has been used to unionize 4,600 workers at the Wynn Las Vegas hotel-casino, 5,000 janitors in Houston and 16,500 workers at Cingular, the cell phone company.” There are also advantages to employers in using card check campaigns, including:

  • Significant reduction of expensive and lengthy conflicts that surround NLRB elections.
  • Adding value to the business.
  • Securing or expanding the customer base who care about the unionization of the firm.
  • Ability of the union to supply qualified, skilled labor. [7]

[1] “Fact over Fiction: Opposition to Card Check Doesn’t Add Up,” American Rights at Work.

[2] Chirag Mehta and Nik Theodore, Undermining the Right to Organize: Employer Behavior During Union Representation Campaigns, Center for Urban Economic Development, U of Illinois: December 2005.

[3] “Widespread Use of Firings, Bribes, and Threats by Employers: New union-busting data released by American Rights at Work,” 6 December 2005 Press Release, American Rights at Work.

[4] Steven Greenhouse, “Employers Sharply Criticize Shift in Unionizing Method to Cards from Elections,” The New York Times, 11 March 2006.

[5] For a FAQ on card check procedures, see the “Card Check Q&A” at American Rights at Work.

[6] Steven Greenhouse, “Employers Sharply Criticize Shift in Unionizing Method to Cards from Elections,” The New York Times, 11 March 2006.

[7] “Fact over Fiction: Opposition to Card Check Doesn’t Add Up,” American Rights at Work.

A New Fable of the Bees Takes Flight on Campus

Here's the text of a fine piece by Professor Frank Palmeri in English, published in Friday's Miami Hurricane. The piece by Simon Evnine, posted below, will now be appearing in next Tuesday's edition.

And don't forget the rally this Tuesday!

In 1715, a Dutchman who had emigrated to England, Bernard Mandeville, wrote his Fable of the Bees, a poem with some short essays, in which he made several arguments about markets, labor, and virtue that have reverberated through the last three centuries, and have contributed largely to the official ideology of the U.S., especially in recent years since the administration of Ronald Reagan. Mandeville pointed out that markets are a great way of producing wealth and power, but they also depend on vices such as greed, theft, vanity, and deception – the passions. He argued that the robber who spends his money on women, clothes, and drink contributes more to the circulation of money and thus the prosperity of the society than the pious miser who hides his fortune in his mattress. (continued in the first comment, below; you can also read it directly in the hurricane)

Friday, March 24, 2006

all-out rally on tuesday at 12

click on images to enlarge

Brought to you by a coalition of UM students, Faculty, Unicco workers, Interfaith clergy, and Community leaders. For more information, call:

Rev. CJ Hawking

Interfaith Worker Justice

academic senate: three cheers for justice

i'm reluctant to put this up just above father frank's strong statement in support of the striking workers and his call to join the coral gables clergy in a large rally this upcoming tuesday, but this story has been waiting long enough.

for a complete and detailed account of the 3/22 faculty senate meeting, please go here.

some 30 strike-supporting faculty showed up last wednesday, march 22, to the faculty senate meeting, many of them wearing loud Faculty Support the Strike t-shirts. president shalala opened the meeting, then took questions from some of us. our questions were hard hitting. i asked about the university's supposed neutrality (the president had insisted a lot on this point in her opening remarks): if the university is indeed neutral, why has the striking workers' picket line been relegated to a remote and traffic-less part of campus, where no one can see them? if the university is neutral, why was the union denied access to campus to offer post-hurricane-wilma relief to working janitors?

linda belgrave asked about the new wages: in one of the poorest cities in the country, how can the university give employees wages that are still below living-wage level? and about the english classes the university offers: how can workers attend them when most of them work two jobs, and some even three?

president shalala declined to be specific against the complaints filed against UNICCO with the National Labor Review Board, claiming that neutrality prevented her from discussing these pending complaints. after my exchange with her, i asked if it would be okay to distribute a flyer listing a series of specific grievances (ranging from suspensions to firings) of some UNICCO workers. claiming freedom of speech, the senate chair allowed it, and i passed the flyers out to all present. some of them already had them, because some strikers were flyering outside the building where the meeting was taking place.

after president shalala left, the academic senate unanimously passed two resolutions, one requiring that the university contract with companies that pay at least the Miami-Dade living wage, including affordable employer-subsidized health insurance, and that a committee consisting of faculty, students and administrators be appointed to keep under constant review salaries and other benefits for all contract workers. a second resolution was passed requiring that, if the UNICCO contract is not renewed (it is schedule to expire in the middle of april), the successful bidder be required to offer to any and all UNICCO employees currently assigned to the University of Miami offer positions comparable to or better than they now hold.

In a third resolution, passed by a strong majority, the Senate urged that all parties involved in the union negotiations adhere to fair labor practices and labor law.

thank you to all present, and to our senators (in particular steven green and hugh thomas), for this momentous victory!

giovanna pompele

father frank corbishley: only a partial victory

a powerful statement from father frank corbishley


Every day striking workers arrive to the Episcopal Student Center on the University of Miami campus, a place now known as "Strike Sanctuary," where I serve as chaplain. The strike is now in its 4th week and the workers remain strong, but a bit worn out from the continual harassment they are receiving from their employer, UNICCO, the contracting service against whom they are striking. One worker told me that last Saturday UNICCO called him 17 times, pressuring him to return to work. Many workers receive phone calls from their UNICCO supervisors, some threatening to fire the workers if they do not return to work.

In spite of the pressure, the workers fill the sanctuary each day as they courageously engage in this David and Goliath struggle. I am moved by how they encourage and support one another. I am also impressed with how the union leadership cares for them by providing the workers with income, food, and meaningful actions to bring this strike to a just resolution.

On behalf of the Task Force, we want to thank the clergy who have written, called, visited, led services, prayed, and joined us in marches as your support means a lot to us and the workers. We especially want to thank Bishops Frade, Ottley, and Estevez, who have given us spiritual strength throughout this journey.

Perhaps you have read that UM President Donna Shalala, although previously stating to the Coral Gables Clergy that she must remain neutral, has announced a raise and "affordable health care" to the striking workers. As a result, some people think that the strike is over or that the main issue has been resolved. I believe this was a tactical move on the part of the university to weaken community support for the workers and is an effort at union busting. The fact that Shalala made this announcement during Spring Break, when students and faculty were away, was another intentional tactical move on her part; there was no on-campus constituency to respond to her for several days. Since returning to campus, the faculty senate has unanimously passed a resolution and STAND, the student group, has run an op-ed piece in the student newspaper.

So, there has been a victory for the workers but it is only a partial victory. The workers remain steadfast in their goal of achieving a union which will guarantee them their rights on the job, safe working conditions, protection against reprisals, and a lasting voice on the job. As you will read in my letter to the editor, published yesterday in the Miami Herald, this has been the goal of the workers all along.

In order to support the workers, the Coral Gables Task Force is inviting you to participate in a march on Tuesday, March 28 at 12 noon. Religious leaders, workers, faculty, students, and community leaders have come together to help the workers achieve their goal of unionization. The march will begin at my church, 1150 Stanford Drive in Coral Gables.

Since I am at a conference this weekend, please feel free to call Rev. C.J. Hawking of Interfaith Worker Justice at 786-280-6902 with any questions you may have. If you wish to speak to me directly, you may leave a message on my cell phone at 305-606-0923 and I can get back to you on Sunday afternoon.

Thank you for your continued prayerful support.

The Rev. Frank Corbishley, Chaplain,
Chapel of the Venerable Bede
Chair, SFICWJ Coral Gables Task Force

coming up on picketline

  • what happened at the academic senate last wednesday

  • more facts on UNICCO

  • big march planned for tuesday, 3/28

  • how are our striking workers faring? voices from the trenches

stay tuned.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

REMINDER: Wal-Mart movie today at 7:30


Where? University of Miami, Cosford Cinema
When? Thursday, March 23 at 7:30 pm

Hosted by: Graduate Student Association
Cosford Cinema: 305-284-4861 Directions:

click here for further details.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

our response to president shalala's announcement

this is a short version of a longer document. to see the full document, please click here.

Why the Protest Continues:
It’s All About Democracy

While celebrating President Shalala’s announcement of improved compensation and health benefits for campus contract workers, UM Faculty nevertheless stand firm in our support of the UNICCO workers in their continuing strike.

Our protest will continue:

* until the UM Administration agrees to require UNICCO and other campus service contractors to respect the organizing and other legal rights of their workers
UNICCO stands accused by the National Labor Relations Board of numerous unlawful labor practices, and credible reports suggest that the firm’s anti-union campaign has escalated to the point of firing a leading organizer in retaliation for her union activities. For the UM Administration to stand silent in the face of the lawless disregard of employee rights is a violation of the obligations of responsible corporate citizenship and a failure of moral leadership.
* until the UM Administration ceases its own participation in UNICCO’s effort to defeat the union campaign
The NLRB is currently investigating the UM Administration itself for refusing union organizers access to campus on a discriminatory and unlawful basis, and the denial of campus access is only the most dramatic instance of UM’s complicity in UNICCO’s anti-union campaign. We note, in particular, the Administration’s decision to side with UNICCO’s call for an NLRB election, despite the fact that a fair election is virtually impossible under NLRB rules – and that final election results would likely be delayed for two or three years – precisely because of UNICCO’s unfair labor practices. These actions are impossible to square with the Administration’s professed “neutrality” in the union campaign and represent unconscionable interference with the organizing efforts of the UNICCO workers.

* until the UM Administration agrees to the establishment of a committee representing all University constituencies to monitor UM’s service contracting practices with the goal of meeting the pay and health care benefit standards established by the Miami-Dade County “Living Wage” ordinance

The compensation and health benefit package announced by President Shalala represents a marked improvement over the University’s contracting practices of the past five years, but it falls far short of the standards established by the Miami-Dade County “Living Wage” ordinance. Indeed, campus contract workers should not be forced to depend on the kindness of an Administration that had not demonstrated any serious inclination to take their interests into account before the onset of the current union campaign. We therefore call for the establishment of a University-wide committee – with faculty, student, and administrative representation as well as a formal voice for campus contract workers – to monitor the pay and benefit practices of UM's service contractors.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

President Shalala's Announcement

At 8 pm tonight, President Shalala announced to the University of Miami students the findings of the work group appointed by her to look into the Unicco workers' situtation, and the new policy implemented by the university, effective today.

This announcement is the first official notice of the administration's decision in response to the UM community's outcry about the Unicco employees working conditions, even though President Shalala gave an interview announcing the same to the Miami Herald on Thursday.

IbisNews, where the annoucement appeared, is the official newsletter of the students of the University of Miami.

Keep tuned for faculty and others' responses!

The Striking Janitors and the Free Market

The following piece, by Simon Evnine, will appear in next Friday's Miami Hurricane:

In an opinion piece in the Miami Herald of March 15th, James Canavan, the UNICCO vice-president for labor relations, wrote that while an average wage of $7.79 per hour for UNICCO employees working at the University of Miami "may appear unacceptable from a humanistic perspective, it is an accurate reflection of the market in which UNICCO operates." This kind of argument can be heard frequently. When less-than-living wages are paid, the free market and ‘the way the system works’ are often invoked. But just what relevance does the free market have in these contexts? That people typically invoke the market, or the way the system works, in opposition to the current strike, rather than merely as part of its diagnosis, suggests that they take these things as a justification for paying poverty wages to workers. However, even if such critics were right that the workings of the free market explain why the UNICCO janitors are paid so poorly, it is quite a step beyond this to hold that the workings of the free market justify those conditions. Explanation and justification are quite different. I may explain why I kick someone by saying that I have a short fuse, but that hardly provides a justification for kicking them. To show why something happens is not to show that it is OK, or acceptable, or right.

I suspect that what lies behind the confusion between explaining the poverty wages of the janitors and justifying them are misapprehensions about just what ‘the free market’ is. One misapprehension is this. We do not really have a free market and, on reflection, almost nobody would want one. When governments pass laws regulating weights and measures, guaranteeing various consumer rights, requiring pharmaceutical companies to list the side-effects of their drugs, regulating pollution, paying subsidies to farmers, giving tax-relief to businesses opening in impoverished areas, imposing minimum wages, and so on and so on, they are tying the hands of the market. Some ideological purists argue that this is why governments should never do any of these things. Most sane people would argue, however, that these are the reasons why we don’t want a completely unshackled market. The real question is not whether or not to have a free market but rather how free a market to have. Market regulations made by a democratic government are, practically by definition, the lowest common consensus about what restriction to place on economic behavior. They are those restrictions that a majority of the people agree on. Nothing stops someone, however, from going beyond these restrictions. A particularly scrupulous pharmaceutical company, for example, may decide to warn consumers of possible side-effects that the FDA does not require them to disclose. This brings me to a second, more fundamental, misapprehension about what the market is.

Above all, ‘the market’ is an abstraction. It is most certainly not some kind of natural force that makes you do things. A kindly salesperson who realizes a cheaper product would better fulfil your needs than a more expensive one you are considering does not have her tongue tied by the market. Exactly the same point goes with respect to wages. If you are deciding how much to offer someone in exchange for certain labor, nothing forces you to offer them the lowest amount you think they will accept. If a starving child offers to mow your lawn for 50 cents, nothing, not the market, not the way the system works, not anything, prevents you from paying them $10. And if (I don’t here say it is, but if) it is wrong to take advantage of someone’s need to pay them less than a living wage, nothing, not the market, not the way the system works, not anything, can make it right.

Blow-hard capitalism and invocations of the market often go hand in hand with the language of personal responsibility. People, it is said, have to take responsibility for their own lives, can’t expect to be given something for nothing, shouldn’t expect handouts, etc. Personal responsibility is a fine virtue. But it cuts both ways. Workers must take personal responsibility, but so must employers and contractors. (And corporations like UNICCO are legally considered as persons.) An employer or contractor is responsible for the kind of pay they offer; an employer or contractor is responsible for the ways in which they might be taking advantage of people’s weaknesses. This is something that UNICCO refuses to understand. The quote from James Canavan with which I began continues: "Since the South Florida market for unskilled labor is in the $6 to $7 range, why should the SEIU vilify UNICCO's operations at UM? When millions of Americans are without health insurance, why should UNICCO and UM be made a scapegoat for this national issue?" Imagine a pre-Civil War slave owner whining that since slavery was rampant, why should he be criticized for enslaving people?

In short, the market does not make anyone do anything. If you are on a bus that lurches and you fall on top of someone, you can excuse yourself by saying "gravity made me do it." If you pay the starving child 50 cents when you could have paid them $10, you cannot excuse yourself by saying "the market made me do it." UNICCO decides what to pay its workers, not the market. The University of Miami decides which companies to contract with, not the market.

My example of the starving child was a simple, and perhaps a simplistic, one. Real-world cases, like the one of the striking janitors, are much more complex, both economically and morally. Nothing I have said here shows, by itself, that UM’s or UNICCO’s behavior is immoral. What I have tried to show is that if there is a moral argument that the workers ought to be paid a living wage for their work and provided with health insurance so that a sickness need not be a total economic catastrophe, one cannot respond to that argument by saying "it’s the market’s fault". We ALL need to take personal responsibility.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Democracy Now

Catch this interview on the program Democracy Now, featuring striking worker and Miami Herald opinion-piece writer Clara Vargas and UNICCO's Doug Bailey. The live version is even better than the transcript.

And there's another great column by Ana Menendez in today's Herald.

Friday, March 17, 2006

an eerie silence

UM Law Professor Michael Froomkin reports some strange goings on on his blog:

I'd like to read the university's report on pay and benefits for contract workers. I'd like to link to it too. But there's still nothing on the UM web site. Nothing.

I called UM's usually efficient Media Relations. "Evlynne" -- who wouldn't give her last name -- said that she didn't know anything about getting copies of the report. And there was no statement available from the university. There is no press release. "Where did the Herald get its information?" I asked. "I don't know," she said. There will, she said, be a letter to the faculty on Monday. Then she put down the phone.

In fact, it turns out, the Herald sourced its story to an interview with Shalala. I called the President's office. The person answering the phone said she didn't know anything about copies of the committee's report or a statement, and someone would call me back. So far, no one has.

Is it just that everyone is on vacation (it's Spring Break) or is this just slightly odd?

Two letters in the Herald

Two great letters in today's Miami Herald, one from our own Jane Connolly.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

A great step forward, but it ain't over yet.

As many of you may have heard by now, Donna Shalala today announced that the university will set its own minimum wage for all contract employees (not just those employed by UNICCO) and offer them some health insurance. You can read about it on-line in the Miami Herald.

This is a step in the right direction. (Read the SEIU response here.) However, we have not yet crossed the finish line and attained a place at the table for the workers. A one-time raise from the University (which, if the details reported in the Herald are true, still does not guarantee a living wage for most campus workers or meet the demands of the striking workers), while a very positive step in itself, is no substitute for the on-going ability of the workers to have a say in the full range of decisions that affect their working lives, let alone for a permanent "place at the table" where they can ensure that these hard-fought gains do not deteriorate over time.

Without successful unionization, it may only be a matter of time before we have to go through this whole process again. UNICCO is still under investigation by the NLRB (indeed, additional charges alleging further labor-law violations will be filed by SEIU tomorrow). The strike continues until UNICCO recognizes the right of the workers to form a union in a manner they have chosen, one that is not contaminated by intimidation, and ceases its violations of labor law.

What can and should sympathetic faculty members do at this point?

We suggest that faculty symbolically acknowledge the progress the janitors are making by returning to teaching in normal class rooms, starting this Monday, March 20th. At the same time, we will begin a new series of actitivities and events designed to demonstrate our continued support for the courageous strikers whose preliminary success we celebrate today. We urge everyone to attend and publicize these events as much as they are able. This new strategic approach is designed to acknowledge progress, demonstrate solidarity with the janitors' continuing effort, and keep up the pressure on our administration to come to the table with the striking workers.

Here is a preliminary schedule of such events. More details will be posted as they are formed.

1) On Monday 20th March, between 12.-1:30 on the lawn in front of the library, students will be holding a study circle, with information concerning the situation.

2) On Wednesday 22nd March, probably from 6-9pm, students from STAND will be holding a concert with a variety of local musicians. Some workers will also be speaking at this event.

3) On Thursday 23rd March, there will be a screening of the film Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price, organized by the Graduate Student Association and Tikkun. Striking workers may be invited to talk.

4) On Tuesday 28th March, starting around 6pm, there will be a student/faculty/worker congress on campus. There will be many workers present, and representatives from UNICCO and the UM administration will also be invited to put forward their points of view. We strongly encourage faculty to offer extra credit and writing credit assignments to students who attend this event and write about it or the issues connected to it. You can emphasize that the event will be balanced, with all sides getting a chance to make their case, and of course, students taking such extra credit or writing credit opportunities will be completely free to write about the strike from any point of view, as they see fit.

5) On Monday April 3rd (if things have not been resolved by then) there will be a faculty organized teach-in.

In addition, if you feel it at all appropriate for your classes, you can arrange for some of the workers to come and address your students. This would work especially well in classes in political science, economics, history and international studies, but obviously this is at the discretion of individual faculty. Please contact Giovanna at if you are interested.

And, keep watching this space for more news!

SEIU statement in response to UM's announcement

MIAMI, March 16 /PRNewswire
Striking Janitors: University Announcement a Victory, But No Guarantee of Improvements

For the first time since janitors at the University of Miami began their struggle to improve their lives by forming a union, the University of Miami today acknowledged its direct responsibility for the wages and working conditions of workers on its campus. This afternoon a University workgroup convened by President Donna Shalala released a set of recommendations that would set a minimum wage and increase access to some level of health care for contract workers on the campus, including the janitors.

In the report the University did not acknowledge the janitors' freedom to choose to form a union. The University's report also does not instruct its troubled contractor UNICCO to obey labor laws or address the other problems involving UNICCO's actions, which include dozens of labor rights violations and work place safety issues.
"It is good they recognize our pay is too low," said UNICCO janitor Clara Vargas, who cleans the campus of the University of Miami. "This is a victory for our efforts so far, but it is not enough. With a bad company like UNICCO, we need the security of a union contract. We can't rely only on promises when it comes to providing for our families. We want to decide our own future."

The details of the workgroup's recommendations and the timeline for implementation are not yet clear. A previous University of Miami committee issued similar recommendations involving worker compensation in 2001, but they were never implemented.

New Unfair Labor Practice Charges to be Filed Friday Against Troubled Contractor UNICCO

Tomorrow, UNICCO will face two new federal labor law charges filed by SEIU Local 11 on behalf of janitors at the University of Miami. The unfair labor practice charges allege UNICCO illegally coerced and threatened janitors from engaging in union activity and going on strike.

A separate unfair labor practices charge was filed Wednesday on behalf of janitors by SEIU Local 11 alleging that since March 1 UNICCO has been violating the National Labor Relations Act by surveilling the union activities of the janitors, including photographing and videotaping strikers on the picket line.

Sympathy strikes twice

Burbs: Wyeth janitors walk-out

(Original Publication: March 16, 2006)

Thirteen workers at the Wyeth Pharmaceuticals plant in Pearl River walked off the job yesterday in a show of support for striking janitors at the University of Miami in Florida.

The laborers, all members of Local 32BJ of the Service Employees International Union and employed by Unicco, a Newton, Mass.-based facilities-maintenance company, walked off their jobs at the vast Wyeth complex early yesterday morning, the union said.

The striking Wyeth workers, which made up the entire day shift, were joined by fellow union members at three other businesses within the region that have contracts with Unicco: Gen Re Corp. in Stamford, Conn.; Travelers in Hartford, Conn.; and Telcordia Technologies Inc. in Piscataway, N.J.

In total, more than 100 workers honored picket lines at the four locations, union spokeswoman Kate Ferranti said. Wyeth didn't return a call seeking comment. The striking Wyeth workers are expected back on the job today. The union was protesting what it said are unfair labor practices by Unicco against janitors seeking to organize at the University of Miami.

The Miami workers went on strike two weeks ago in a dispute about health-care benefits, wages and working conditions, the union said.

"Cleaners in the Northeast earn good wages and have health-care benefits, but not in Miami," Mike Fishman, president of Local 32BJ, said in a statement.

The union noted that Unicco's unionized workers in New York suburban areas earn about $10 an hour with health benefits supplied to full-time workers.

The striking workers in Miami earn $6.40 an hour, the union said, and don't have health benefits.

Hartford Courant Local Briefing March 16, 2006

Janitors Stage Sympathy Action

About 60 Hartford-based janitors briefly walked off their jobs Tuesday night to show support for janitors at the University of Miami whose strike for the right to form a union is entering its third week.The Hartford janitors, who are members of Service Employees International Union Local 32BJ, clean for St. Paul Travelers Cos. through a contract with UNICCO. The striking janitors who clean the University of Miami also work for UNICCO and say the company committed unfair labor practices during their attempt to form a union.Janitors who work for UNICCO in Stamford, and in New Jersey and New York, also walked off a shift this week in honor of the picket lines in Miami, according to Local 32BJ.