Sunday, April 30, 2006
Tuesday April 25th: "We Provided Higher Wages. We Provided Health Insurance. We Have Done Our Part." UM did indeed require all its contractors to increase the minimum pay of their employees to $8 an hour. We commend this move. The fact that it was made shows that a university's president can intervene to correct injustices perpetrated by its contractors. However, the increased wages are still well below the living wage required of all contractors by Miami-Dade County and the City of Miami. The City of Miami requires a minimum hourly rate of $10.58 if health insurance is provided, and $11.83 otherwise.
The ad mentions that the health insurance to be offered to UNICCO workers costs $13 a month. This is the premium for employee coverage alone. Employee/spouse and employee/child premiums are $266 and $241 respectively. Family coverage is a whopping $493, fully 34% of the income of a full-time worker making $8.50 an hour. We understand that President Shalala, an expert on health care, told her class this semester that affordable health care should not cost more than 10% of a person’s income. UNICCO workers may be able to afford health care for themselves (we say may because there is still nothing known of the actual coverage, deductibles and co-pays), but most likely will have to see their spouses and children go without.
As for having "done its part," can anyone say this when there is still injustice going on under their noses which they are in a position to alleviate?
Wednesday April 26th: "Outside Protestors Trespass On Our Campus. Our Students, Faculty, and Staff Are Harassed. The Union Has Gone Too Far." The cry of "outsiders" and "anarchists" (also mentioned in the ad) is classic. People who went to Mississippi in the 60’s were "outsiders," those who brought us an 8 hour workday were "anarchists," etc., etc.
It is not clear just who the university is alluding to. President Shalala spoke at the recent Faculty Senate meeting of "Black Block" anarchists and other "scary" types but no details have been made public. We have seen a handful of people at rallies who were not union, faculty, students, workers, or known community stalwarts (clergy, living wage people, etc.). We have never seen or heard of any violence (except on the part of security or police against students). There was one act of vandalism when some students from another university scrawled on the back of Ashe with a marker; one of these students has since spoken to UM faculty asking what he could do to make sure that our students are not disciplined for his actions, noting that he was not invited by the students or the union to attend the rally. The university’s reaction here is just a little hysterical.
As for "the union has gone too far," it should be remembered that the only serious disruptions have occurred when the administration closed down Ashe. On one occasion, the students did a sit-in in the Admissions office, not an academic unit. The administration locked down the building and police prevented faculty from leaving to teach their classes. The sit-in was not organized by the union but the students, who are intelligent, courageous, free agents. When Charles Steele, president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (Martin Luther King’s organization), went to Ashe to try to see President Shalala, some students entered the building and were forcibly removed. Ashe was locked down, once again, impeding students and faculty from getting to classes and offices. The students remained in front of the building with tape over their mouths, humming "We shall overcome" with clergy offering prayers, hardly disruptive actions. The administration again had increased police presence, on occasion locking down Ashe, when David Bonior, former Speaker of the House, appeared at the Episcopal Center; when 77-year-old Ed Asner came to Ashe to try to see President Shalala, speaking to the few students who were in front; when Rev. Steele, former candidate for Vice President John Edwards, and Jimmy Hoffa spoke at a rally off campus. The union had nothing to do with the decisions to shut down Ashe, disrupting the free movement of students, faculty and staff.
Thursday April 27th: "They Stage Daily Publicity Stunts. They Disrupt Our Academic Mission. The Union Needs To Stop Its Tactics." See comments on the previous ad. In addition, this ad says "the union... encourag[ed] UM students and UNICCO workers to starve themselves." This is false. The hunger strikers acted autonomously and without encouragement. In fact, the union tried to dissuade people from hunger striking. This is perfectly consistent with supporting them once they decided to act for themselves.
Friday April 28th April: "They Don’t Want Workers To Vote. They Argue Against Freedom and Democracy. Does The Union Think Workers Are Second-Class Citizens?" Here the university clearly aligns itself with UNICCO (so much for their neutrality), whose slogan is "let ‘em vote." We have explained over and over the nature of the card check process the union and the workers want: how it is fairer, more representative, less open to abuse that an election conducted by the NLRB.
The ad contains one particular mistake that has also characterized the Miami Herald’s news coverage. "This method [i.e. card check] involves soliciting individual signatures from UNICCO employees and does not guarantee participation by all UNICCO employees." In fact, if a worker does not sign a card, it counts as a no vote. Hence the method does guarantee participation by all workers and requires a majority of all workers in order to be successful. It is the NLRB election advocated by UM and UNICCO that does not guarantee participation by all. Like any election, non-voters’ opinions do not count for or against. Hence, the election is won only by a majority of those who choose to vote. This could, needless to say, be a minority of the workers as a whole.
It is, frankly, offensive for the university to suggest that the union thinks "the workers are second-class citizens" because it insists on a card check process. Card check is the most common method of private sector unionizations today in the US. Last year, 70% of all private sector workers unionized were unionized by card check or similar processes. UNICCO itself has admitted to using the method for at least half its unionized employees, and the information we have seen indicates that the true figure is 90% of all its 8500 unionized workers. There is currently a bill in congress with bi-partisan support that would make it obligatory for companies to recognize the results of card check processes. Were you to ask the workers who thinks they are second-class citizens, they would surely answer UNICCO and the UM administration.
Saturday, April 29, 2006
1) The Faculty Senate requests that the President affirm that no contractor will lose its position solely as a result of any decision made by their workers regarding unionization.
2) The Faculty Senate requests that the university administration adhere to its announced policy of neutrality and indicate that it supports the UNICCO workers’ legal right to decide their future through a process of their choosing.
It is worth comparing the role of the university and its president in the struggle to that played by UM and its president. The University sent P&R a letter on April 19, asking them to recognize the union through card check. P&R, who had been fighting card check as hard as UNICCO at UM, finally relented and agreed.
Check out the excellent website maintained by the Georgetown University Living Wage Coalition, and especially this letter from Senator Kennedy to Georgetown's president calling on him to stop blocking a card check recognition.
Friday, April 28, 2006
As you may have noticed, we have moved the tents from the front of the Ashe Building. We did this in response to a "Dialogue" email sent out [April 26] by President Shalala.
Although the language of the email is subtle, we believe it represents a solid step forward. In reference to options for the union vote process – card check, secret ballot, or a third process – President Shalala writes, "the University will not take a position of endorsing one process over another as to how the contract employees make that determination." President Shalala has not always stuck to total neutrality regarding the different methods of unionization, so we are glad to see a move back in the direction of true neutrality – that is, the willingness to accept any legal method of collective decision for or against unionization. [cont'd in first comment]
Thursday, April 27, 2006
MIAMI, April 26 /PRNewswire/ -- Today, a group of labor leaders from Brazil, Argentina, Canada, Colombia, Venezuela, Panama, Nicaragua, Jamaica, St. Marten, Chile, and Costa Rica visited with strikers at the University of Miami who are protesting violations of their civil rights. The leaders, whose unions are affiliates of Public Services International (PSI), met with strikers to express their support for the stand they've taken and to discuss what they can do to assist strikers once they return to their home countries.
"It's time for University President Donna Shalala to do what's right and just," said Leandro Avila from the Panamanian union, the Federation of Public Employees (FENASEP) and a member of the Panama National Congress.
An international spotlight is shining on a strike by immigrant janitors, housekeepers and groundskeepers at University of Miami, which recruits students from countries as diverse as China, Venezuela, Colombia and India. The strikers and many of the campus service workers are immigrants from Cuba, Haiti, Jamaica and Peru, and other countries, reflecting the international flavor of Miami.
International pressure is increasing on University President Donna Shalala, a former Clinton administration official, to intervene in the strike now entering its eighth week.
Trade unionists from across the globe have sent more than 4,000 email messages to Shalala urging her to tell campus maintenance contractor UNICCO to stop breaking the law. The campaign was spearheaded by a website based in the United Kingdom, http://www.labourstart.org.
In a recent letter to Shalala, Philip Jennings, president of the global union, Union Network International, reminded her, "UNICCO is your contractor. It's your responsibility to resolve this situation."
A panel of speakers will present various views in light of current Coral Gables events.
When: Wednesday, May 3, 8:00 p.m.
Where: Temple Judea, 5500 Granada Blvd.
Coral Gables, Florida
Another column from Ana Menendez in yesterday's Herald, focusing on the student activism. Especially welcome now that many of the student are being called in for disciplinary hearings!
Also a good column in today's Sun-Sentinel.
A horrible editorial from the Herald today, in which they endorse NLRB elections over card check while giving absolutely no reasons at all for their position. Since they have twice misreported the very same fact about the two methods (once after publishing a letter correcting the first time they made the mistake) one cannot be sure they fully grasp what they are talking about. If you're still not sure, check our new FAQ on the matter here.
On a separate note, the Cambridge, MA resolution we talked about a few days ago did indeed pass unanimously, as you can read in the Harvard Crimson.
Wednesday, April 26, 2006
WHEN: 9:30 a.m. April 27, 2006
WHERE: Freedom Village – Stanford Drive between US 1 and Ponce de Leon (across from the main entrance to the UM Coral Gables campus)
United Farmworkers Union founder Dolores Huerta will visit striking UNICCO janitors and hunger striker Eliseo Medina, vice-president of the SEIU, at Freedom Village on Thursday morning. Huerta and Medina will lead a discussion with striking janitors and visiting members of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, an organisation of workers and community residents in Southwest Florida that has fought for better pay and working conditions for farmworkers and others.
Huerta has been called the mother of the Chicano movement, and we are immensely honored to have her in Miami!
Coinciding with Workers Memorial Day, April 28, the report announces a new National COSH campaign, “Stop Corporate Killers,” which calls for an overhaul of the regulatory system to ensure that workers realize the right to a safe and healthy workplace that the Occupational Safety and Health Act promised.
Read about UNICCO's negligence in the death of a worker here. The full report is available here.
Tuesday, April 25, 2006
Dear University of Miami President Donna Shalala,Please sign it as http://www.petitiononline.com/7779/petition.html and send the address to all your friends and colleauges. This is a chance to show that the country cares about low-wage contract employees on America's campuses. (On the host web-site there are a few paragraphs of background which will help explain to those who are not familiar with the situation what is going on.)
We, the undersigned, write to you to urge you to bring to bear your skills as a leader and an administrator in order immediately to resolve the strike by janitors and groundskeepers at the University of Miami.
At stake are two core principles with far-reaching implications for tens of thousands of contract workers at institutions of higher education across the country: the basic right to stand up for a better life and choose to form a union free from intimidation or the threat of firing, and the ethical and moral responsibility of all institutions of higher learning to hold their contractors accountable for their actions, and to ensure contractors cannot break the law and violate their employees’ basic rights without consequences.
To resolve the crisis at the University of Miami and demonstrate your leadership on these issues we ask you to make three statements:
1. That contractors that break the law will be barred from doing business with the University.
2. That contract workers should be allowed to unionize by whatever legal, democratic method they choose.
3. That Unicco or any other campus contractor will not lose their contracts with the University based on whether or not the contractors’ workers have a union.
Finally, we urge you to do everything in your power to bring Unicco, the workers and SEIU together in person to negotiate a resolution to this crisis. Its prolongation is unjust, unnecessary and hugely harmful to the great reputation enjoyed by the University of Miami.
Like institutions of higher education everywhere, UM should be a leading example in our community at large of an institution that values the highest ethical standards and the preservation of basic rights and freedoms.
Today, there was press conference at the Strike Sanctuary and a rally that started at Freedom Village and marched down Ponce to the Convocation Center. We were treated to a line-up of incredibly inspiring speakers. Among them were Eliseo Medina, the Vice-President of the SEIU, now hunger striking at Freedom Village.
"[President Shalala] has the power [to end the strike], all that is lacking is the will... All that is needed... is more communication. To solve this conflict requires leaders, not neutrals" (Eliseo Medina)
James Hoffa, Jr., leader of the Teamsters, was also there (pictured with SEIU's Hiram Ruiz).
"Today I bring you greetings and support from 1.5 million Teamsters. We are with you... We hear your voices. But does Donna Shalala hear your voices?" (James Hoffa).
"We are ready for everything. What more is there to lose? Do they think we are going to lose our dignity?" (Striking worker Maritza Paz).
Two visitors were coming to the campus for the second time. One was Charles Steele, President of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.
"If [the students] get arrested, I'm ready to go to jail too... I'm going to take my tie off and I'm ready to go to jail... We represent Dr. Martin Luther King. This [the Southern Christian Leadership Conference] is his organization. If Dr. King were here today, and I'm in his position, he'd say 'Keep marching, keep demonstrating and keep the faith alive'" (Charles Steele).
The other returning visitor was Senator John Edwards.
"None of you, no American, should be working full time and be living in poverty. That's what this struggle is about... Your struggle is my struggle... If a Republican can join the Republican Party by signing their name to a card, then any worker in America should be able to join a union by signing their name to a card" (John Edwards).
Nearly two months into a strike by janitors at the University of Miami, a determined band of South Florida clergy has rallied religious support for workers that crosses traditional faith boundaries.And a letter, too, from Daniel Messinger.
Catholic, Protestant and Jewish leaders have prayed with striking workers, offered their sanctuaries as alternative classroom sites, sent letters to the university president and invited janitors to speak to their congregations and even joined a hunger strike. [con'td]
Councillor Decker flew right back to Cambridge and put this item on the agenda for today's city council meeting:
That this City Council go on record urging the Harvard University Presidential Search Committee, when choosing the next leader of Harvard University, to consider candidates’ record of support for living wages, workplace health and safety, and workers’ right to organize.
You can read the full text of the resolution here. It explicitly refers to the situation here at the University of Miami. Their website does not yet record the vote, but Councillor Decker was confident it would pass unanimously.
AND RALLY on TUESDAY
(tomorrow) at 10:30 AM
We are fully aware (believe us!) that this is the last week of classes and that we are all suffering from rally fatigue, but this is a big one, so if you have to choose one event to attend this week, this should be it!
President of the Southern Christian Leadership Conferense Rev. Charles Steele, 2004 democratic vice-presidential candidate John Edwards, Teamsters President James P. Hoffa Jr. , Laborers President Terry O'Sullivan, and Eliseo Medina, vice-president of the SEIU, on his 5th hunger striking day, will be holding a press conference at the Strike Sanctuary at 10.30 AM and a rally at Stanford at Ponce at 11 AM. John Edwards and James Hoffa will be sympathy fasting for the next 24 hours.
We are sure the significance of such a prominent contingent of labor celebrities is not lost on you. Please make every effort to be there.
Monday, April 24, 2006
South Florida Mothers Stand with Colombian Flower Workers!
Friday May 12th
Dole Fresh Flowers
10055 NW 12th St, Miami
(Park close to NW 12th Street at International Mall)
# Are often fired or do not have their contracts renewed if they become pregnant while employed
# Can work up to 80 hours per week without overtime pay
# Earn less than $180 per month-not nearly enough to support their families
THEY HAVE FORMED the first independent and democratic union at the Dole-owned Splendor plantation. To date, Dole Fresh Flowers continues to deny the existence of any problems and despite a verbal commitment it still refuses to meet and negotiate with union representatives. Miami-based Dole Fresh Flowers is the largest employer of flower workers and owns 20% of the Colombian flower industry.
For more information contact: Carolina Delgado (305) 510-1748
Dear Student Activists and others,
On Wednesday April 19, 2006 30 students from Florida State University, Florida Agricultural And Mechanical University, and the Tallahassee Community College began what would become a 33 hour sit-in in Governor Jeb Bush's office. We were protesting the lack of government inaction and the attempted cover-up by state officials in the Martin Lee Anderson case.
14-year-old Martin Lee Anderson was the victim of a brutal, sustained beating by authorities at a publicly funded boot camp in Panama City, Florida. The next day, he died. The coroner determined that the cause of death was related to sickle cell trait, an absolutely ludicrous claim. (continued in first comment)
here is an article on the students' protest in the palm beach post.
Employee - $13
Employee/Spouse - $265.79
Employee/Child - $240.51
Family - $493.30
For a worker making $8.50 per hour, working 40 hours per week, family coverage represents 36% of pre-tax salary. According to the Washington Post, President Shalala makes $516,904 per annum. If she had to pay for health insurance at the same rate, it would cost her $15,507 per month.
A powerful letter in today's Herald from Howard Pospesel. (For those of you who don't know, Howard, now Emeritus Professor of Philosophy at UM, was one of the original senate movers on this issue back in 2001.)
University of Miami President Shalala closed her April 19 Other Views column, UM has done its part; now union, Unicco must do theirs, with: ''Meanwhile, we'll be perched -- on the rock, next to the hard place.'' But Shalala placed herself in this position by failing to take adequate action four years ago when two groups from UM, one composed of students and the other of faculty, met with her and
asked her to use her institutional power and moral authority to bring an end to the exploitation of workers on the campuses.
But she offered nothing but Band-Aid solutions, such as free classes in computers and English. What value were these to people who had to hold down two or three jobs to survive? The real problems facing the workers were poverty-level wages and the lack of healthcare.
UM must insist on just treatment of all who are employed there. Shalala should get off her perch on the rock and lead UM out of this mess.
And I got this in an email, but don't know its original source:
ACTIVISTS OCCUPY DC BUILDING TO SUPPORT MIAMI HUNGER STRIKE:
Activists occupied a downtown DC office building Friday at lunchtime to protest union-busting by UNICCO, the building services company that has sparked a 3-week hunger strike at the University of Miami. Chanting "UNICCO has got to go!" two dozen demonstrators stormed the lobby of the Columbia Square building at F and 12th streets while a second group kept the police occupied at the 13th street entrance. The raucous demonstration organized by SEIU 32BJ District 82 filled the elegant atrium with the deafening sounds of whistles, noisemakers and chants. UNICCO -- one of the largest facility services companies in the country -- has contracts at some 25 DC buildings; with the hunger strike continuing in Miami, another local action is planned for next Friday, April 28. Watch this space for details on location and time. Read more about the hunger strike at http://www.seiu.org/
Saturday, April 22, 2006
This week's most important event was the passing of the baton, in which the hunger striking workers, after 17 days with no food, and the hunger striking students, with up to 10 days of no food, broke their fast and handed the baton on to a new group of people from the labor, religious, academic and general community. At a moving prayer ceremony yesterday, Eliseo Medina, the Vice President of the SEIU, who has been on hunger strike with Cesar Chavez, began an indefinite hunger strike:
Also there to accept the baton was Andy Stern, SEIU President, who will be fasting at Freedom Village for 72 hours:
Prayers were conducted by Father Frank Corbishley, Father Rich Mullen and Rev. James Bush III:
"Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my bretheren, ye have done it unto me" (Matthew xxv, 40)
"My ears were listening to all the speakers, but my eyes were always looking at the bread" (Mewelau Hall, hunger striking student - not pictured here)
Others willing to take up the baton included:
"We're here to take the baton to get you to the next level... We are not going to give in" Rev. James Bush III
"We'll be back next week and the week after that, as long as you need us" Bruce Nissen (United Faculty of Florida)
"Let this be the last Passover that people have been denied the right to organize" Jack Lieberman (Jewish community leader)
"You have sacrificed your health, even your life, for all of us" Monica Russo (SEIU Florida Healthcare Union)
"It's time to crank it up... Tuesdays and Wednesdays, I don't eat until you win" Linda Belgrave (Miami for Peace and Justice, and UM faculty)
"You will have justice" unidentified
Jeanette Smith (Miami Friends), John Murphy and Dana Rasch (UM, Sociology) and Hugh Thomas (UM, History)
The last seven photos were taken from an event on Monday 17th April at which people pledged their support to help continue the protest if the hunger strikers would allow them. There were many more - apologies to those not pictured, and profound thanks to all. Here are some recordings of speeches at Monday's events:
This is really too infuriating. In today's piece "UM janitors end hunger strike but dispute lingers" you say "a secret election run by the National Labor Relations Board... requires all janitors to vote yes or no". This is the same mistake which you made in an earlier piece ("UM protests strike pressure tactice" April 13). I wrote a letter pointing out that error and you published a letter by someone else pointing out the same error. Now here you are making it again. An NLRB election does not require anyone to vote at all. It is won by a majority of voters. Non-voters simply do not count in any way. It is the card check method that comes closest to your description. If someone does not sign a card saying they want the union, they are effectively taken as a no vote. Hence the card check method requires a majority of all workers to say they want a union in order to succeed.
One reason why the labor dispute may be lingering so long is because the Herald seems incapable of publishing accurate information about it. If you took the trouble to explain accurately to your readers what was at issue there would be much less confusion of the kind you report. Please correct this error and do not continue to perpetuate this misinformation.
Friday, April 21, 2006
This interview with Elsa Rodriguez, here with her grandson Kevin, was conducted yesterday, Thursday April 20th. Today, the hunger strikers were relieved by the community at large, who are taking up the baton. (The interview is in Spanish).
Ed Asner (actor and activist) was at Freedom Village this morning. He made a strong statement to all of us, which was caught by Ch.7. He was interviewed by Ch. 7, and then spoke with each of the workers and hunger strikers. He then went over to the students in front of Ashe where he placed calls to Shalala and Colson. As soon as Shalala’s office learned he was here, the water was turned off. When he left, it was turned back on. Shalala’s office said she wasn’t here (naturally), so he dictated an email to Jake to send to her. I think he reached Colson’s voice mail.
1) The Faculty Senate requests that the President affirm that UNICCO will not lose its position as contractor as a result of any decision made by the workers regarding unionization.
2) The Faculty Senate requests that the university administration adhere to its announced policy of neutrality and indicate that it supports the UNICCO workers’ right to decide their future through a process of their choosing.
In communicating to the University of Miami and South Florida communities about the labor strife at UM, Donna Shalala has made a number of erroneous statements about the current strike by the janitorial and landscaping workers. As a member of the faculty who was asked to participate in the negotiations called by President Shalala between UNICCO, the contract employer of the workers, and Service Employees International Union (SEIU), I feel compelled to correct these misstatements, including her recent claim that there are ongoing negotiations between UNICCO and SEIU. Both UNICCO and UM walked away from the negotiations table over two weeks ago. SEIU remains willingly to resume negotiations, but dialogue requires more than one party.
President Shalala argues that the increased compensation that UM is offering should have caused the workers and SEIU to declare victory and end the strike. While the workers are gratified to have increased wages and the possibility (finally) of health coverage, they still do not enjoy a living wage. Additionally, the strike has never been about compensation but about unfair labor practices. After investigating charges made by the workers, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) found in January 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; and conducting unlawful surveillance of a union meeting. A hearing is scheduled for the end of May but may be delayed owing to a dozen new charges now under investigation by the NLRB, including 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. (continued in first comment)
Also in today's El Nuevo Herald is a translation of the four-authored op-ed from the Sun Sentinel a few days ago. (Thanks to Lillian Manzor for the translation of this and Jane's piece.) It also appears in English and in Spanish (a different translation, so literature people can compare and contrast) in Progreso Semanal/Progreso Weekly.
Finally, a nice piece in the on-line People's Weekly World.
The word is getting out!
here are some pictures from swamp city:
between a rock and dry place
mattresses and sleeping material are set out to dry away from the sprinklers
hangin' out to dry
the students brought flowers for the admission office staff to apologize for disrupting their work. the staff refused to accept them, claiming that they needed to remain neutral. here's a reminder to the staff of their rightsas guaranteed by federal law.
Thursday, April 20, 2006
At a Friday night prayer service for the men and women on their 17th day of a hunger strike, the president of America’s largest union, Andrew L Stern, as well as SEIU Vice President Eliseo Medina will join striking janitors, UM faculty, students, and community members for a prayer service.
Father Rich Mullen of St. Augustine’s Catholic Church and Student Center, the same church attended by UM President Donna Shalala, will lead the service. Father Mullen and SEIU’s Stern and Medina will honor the janitors for their ongoing sacrifices in their campaign to build a better life.
WHAT: Prayer Service with janitors fasting to protest civil rights abuses
WHEN: 4PM, Friday, April 21
WHERE: Freedom City, Stanford Drive between Ponce de Leon & US1
WHO: University of Miami janitors, Andrew Stern, SEIU International President, Eliseo Medina, SEIU Executive Vice President, Fr. Rich Mullen, St. Augustine’s Catholic Church and Student Center, University of Miami students, faculty, other clergy, community leaders
As part of statewide actions planned for next week, Change to Win labor federation unions in Florida will focus on the critical situation with UNICCO janitors at the University of Miami. National union leaders are expected to be in Miami to take part in the week’s events. Change to Win unions include SEIU, UNITE HERE, United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America, Laborers’ International Union of North America, and United Farm Workers of America.
The prayer service follows on the heels of an appeal by representatives of the more than 150 political, religious and community leaders supporting janitors’ efforts to step down and permit the community to take up the fast in their name.
On this Sunday morning, janitors at the University of Miami are now in the 12th day of a hunger strike. And Mike has a preview. Will and Diane, good morning, and happy Easter. It's a good morning to talk about something that has been going on in the community for weeks. A strike by the janitors at the University of Miami. They work for a company named eunuch owe.
Vote method counts
The April 13 article UM protests strike pressure tactics says Unicco wants to require all 480 janitorial employees to vote; the union wants the decision to form a union left only to those who want to vote. The situation is just about the reverse.
Unicco wants the decision made by a National Labor Relations Board election, in which a majority of voters would carry the day. But no one is required to vote in an NLRB election. The union wants a card-check process, which results in a union only if a majority of all the workers sign cards saying that they want a union.
This is not a small confusion. The strike is largely over the democratic credentials of the two methods. However else the methods stack up against each other, the card-check method preferred by the union is more representative precisely because it requires a majority of all the workers to succeed. Elections, by contrast, can be won even with a small turnout.
GIOVANNA POMPELE, lecturer, English department, University of Miami, Miami
Because the NLRB's allegations that UNICCO has acted in illegal ways to prevent unionization, such as spying, interrogation, threats, and violating employees' freedom of speech on the job, remain inexplicably and inexcusably unaddressed by the University.
Because the right to organize is a human right.
Because NLRB supervised elections are profoundly undemocratic.
Because there are concerns about card check elections as well.
Because President Shalala herself suggested a third way that would allow UNICCO workers here at UM to make a truly democratic decision about whether or not they want SEIU representation. Now, that third way seems to have disappeared from the University's rhetoric as suddenly as it arrived, and the negotiations that were the result of our previous occupation stalled and dissipated after only two meetings.
Because it is dishonorable and duplicitous for an ostensibly democracy-loving university to side with the business it contracts, and neglect its responsibility to the workers – as the university has done by openly advocating for NLRB elections.
Because all other avenues of dissent have been tried and proven ineffective. We refuse to be ignored any longer; we refuse to allow the workers' voices to be ignored any longer. We refuse to allow injustice to remain, or the rights of the workers to fade away. It is time for a change.
President Shalala, we have come to you a group of women and men, four of whom are hunger striking in solidarity with the workers who are starving for justice. We ask you to think about what truly serves democracy, freedom, and justice, and to help us make this university a better place to be, for all of us.
We have one, very simple demand: President Shalala, tell UNICCO it must resolve its conflict with the SEIU by Monday, April 24th 2006. If UNICCO fails in this very basic task, UM must drop the contract and find a company that will work with a union in a lawful and productive way. We will not leave until we see this promise in writing and publicized for the entire world to see and be proud of, or until we are arrested.
Respectfully, and with hope for a more democratic future,
Concerned students of the Ashe Building
Around 1 PM yesterday afternoon, striking UNICCO janitors at UMiami blocked traffic at highway intersections near campus as 12 students (including 4 hunger strikers) attempted to occupy the admissions office. After President Shalala ignored janitors and students on hunger strike, students had no choice but to disrupt the university's business to force Shalala to listen. Just as the students entered the office, police officers in plain clothes violently pushed and dragged the students outside without any warning and without even identifying themselves as police officers. One student was knocked over by police, possibly breaking her hand (she went to the hospital but the diagnosis is unknown as of now).
Once pushed outside, the 12 students linked arms and stood blocking the entrance doors to the building (where admissions and administrators' offices are). They were quickly joined by more students, and soon a crowd of over 30 students sat with linked arms and tape across their mouths to symbolize UM's squelching of students' free speech.
Repeatedly, throughout the day, university administrators threatened students with disciplinary action including arrest and expulsion for peacefully demonstrating in support of janitors. This was only the latest in a series of administrators' tactics to intimidate students. They have already revoked the student-labor group STAND's ability to hold events on campus. But before police could arrest students Charles Steele, President of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s organization), arrived on campus for a scheduled press conference and announced that if any students were arrested he would get arrested with them. With Steele's support, along with the presence of media and religious leaders, the UMiami administrators backed off.
Right now, students are continuing to sit directly outside the doors of the administration building, causing security to lock all the doors. Students will stay there until President Shalala forces the contractor UNICCO to allow janitors to unionize by the method of their choice. The students' portion of "Freedom City," the tent city set up just outside of campus two weeks ago, has been moved right in front of the administration building as well.
Here's the text of an e-mail by Liza Alwes, one of the residents of the new suburb of Freedom Village:
this is the campaign i'm doing. at this very moment (oh, the wonders of technology) i'm sitting in one of the tents we've pitched outside the ashe administration building, getting soaked by rain coming in sideways through the screen bits of the tent. soaked by rain sideways? is this some crazy florida storm? no, it's just that the sprinklers have been turned on for the last almost 24 hours in an attempt to drive us out. what a smart and adult use of water! i'm glad that we have the Everglades right here, and that no one is damaging their ability to refilter this lovely water by draining them and putting up condos.
sleeping on her soaked blanket next to me is my friend jess, whose whole forearm has to be in a brace for at least the next two weeks since those people [plainclothes police who did not identify themselves] threw her on the ground in our peaceful, if a little frantic, attempt to get into the admissions office...
if you think it's late in the semester to be trying to win, i have some great news: President of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference Charles Steele is on our side now. He's coming back on monday to raise hell with us and he says he'll bring a lot of support. he's obviously a high profile guy, so i think we still have a chance...
with love to all,
Also an interesting piece in the Washington Post a couple of days ago, mostly on the University of Virginia sit-in (over the same issues), but also deals with UM and quotes student hunger striker Bethany Quinn.
And we were on Air America this morning!
Wednesday, April 19, 2006
Reverend Charles Steele, the president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, came straight from the airport to the Ashe Building at the University of Miami today. He was given permission to enter the building to negotiate with Donna Shalala [a group of female students had occupied the building, put tape over their mouths, and were humming "We Shall Overcome"]. Rev. James Bush joined him. The students were allowed to leave the building and are camped out on the lawn in front of the Ashe Building (in their tents). Rev. Steele made it very clear that if they are arrested, he will be arrested with them. Rev. Steele has given Unicco, and by extension, UM, 24 hours to resolve this with a card check. If it is not resolved by this weekend, he will return to Miami and Miami will see the largest march that they have ever seen. He says that he is from Alabama and he knows how to march. He says that this is for the country - that these workers have stood up for the country and he will not desert them even if it means filling up the jails in Miami.
I can't tell you the emotion that I feel - tears are flowing down my face - I finally see an end in sight. There is strength in unity - we are united and I truly feel the spirit in this tent.I wish I could even begin to relate the strength and wonder of the words that I'm hearing.
Regarding the first point, it cannot be forgotten that UM is Unicco’s employer. Like any employer, UM is morally (and perhaps also legally) responsible for Unicco’s behavior in doing the job UM pays it to do. The federal National Labor Relations Board has issued a complaint against Unicco (equivalent to indicting it for a crime), having found "reason to believe" that Unicco has threatened, intimidated, interrogated and spied on pro-union workers at UM. It is also investigating the company for firing a leading union organizer on the eve of the strike vote and making numerous threats against striking workers. As Unicco’s employer, UM needs to be publicly and vigorously attentive to such issues lest the university be perceived as complicit with Unicco. Furthermore, it is most certainly the university’s business to ensure a campus free from harassment and injustice of any kind.
Furthermore, President Shalala says the university has stepped up and done the right thing by requiring all its contractors to raise the pay of the janitors and ensure them some health insurance. But their wages, even after this increase, are well below a living wage as determined by both the City of Miami and Miami Dade County, both of which refuse to contract with companies that pay less than a living wage.
The second point concerns the method of unionization. President Shalala and Unicco are both insisting on an NLRB election whereas the workers want to use a method called card check recongition, in which a union is recognized if a majority of workers sign cards saying that is what they want. It may seem as if there is little difference and that, if anything, a secret-ballot election must surely be the more democratic process. Unfortunately, that is far from true. NLRB elections can take years to be resolved, during which time pro-union workers are fired or otherwise intimidated. One of the cases which President Shalala uses as evidence that the union accepts NLRB elections makes this very point: the Pan American Hospital. It took over two years after the workers there voted in an NLRB election for a union before a contract was finally negotiated. Other cases are even worse, some having gone on for 6 or 7 years. Furthermore, if it is true that SEIU has sometimes agreed to elections, it is also true that Unicco has agreed to card check for somewhere between 50% and 90% of its unionized workers.
President Shalala says that "SEIU and it supporters are pressuring the university to require Unicco to accept the method [card check] that does not guarantee participation by all employees." In so far as this claim even makes sense, it actually gets things backwards. Neither method, card check or NLRB election, guarantees participation by all employees. Workers can refuse to sign a card and refuse to vote in an election. But card check only succeeds if a majority of all the workers say they want a union, whereas NLRB elections are won by a majority only of those who actually vote. It is the card check method that actually guarantees greater representativeness. That is one of the several reasons why card check is now actually the norm in the United States. According to the New York Times, about 70% of all private sector workers unionized last year were unionized via card check or similar processes.
President Shalala has repeatedly tried to paint this as a hysterical dispute over a minor process issue. But the issue is really one of freedom of choice. 57% of the workers at UM have said they want to use card check. They have chosen this method. And the NLRB election route is, despite its uses of secret ballots, simply not an effective way of implementing freedom of choice. You cannot judge a democratic process by looking only at the moment of casting a vote or signing a card. The fact is, the rhetoric of secret ballots and democratic elections is belied by the regulations surrounding NLRB elections, which enable employers to have anti-union one-on-one meetings with all the voters while denying any comparable access to the union, which enable employers to raise or lower salaries, threaten to close the business, hire or fire workers, and so on.
President Shalala’s misleading characterization of the whole dispute is just further evidence that the university is an actively involved party, taking the side of Unicco. As such, the university has made itself fair game as a target for demonstrations (though President Shalala’s allegation that "bullies" and "professional protesters" have been brought in is really too ridiculous). What the university really needs to do is to stop pretending to be neutral while siding with Unicco and stand up for the law, for freedom of choice by the workers and for justice on the UM campus. One easy but effective step she could take is to urge her employee, Unicco, to start negotiating in earnest with the SEIU and to state publicly that she supports any democratic and legal solution to the problem as long as it represents the free choice of the people who keep UM clean and beautiful.
One of the nation’s foremost civil rights leaders, Charles Steele, Jr., national president and CEO of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), will be in Miami today to support janitors and students at the University of Miami who are in their second week of a hunger strike to protest civil rights violations against janitors at the University of Miami.
Founded on February 14, 1957, SCLC was created to ensure economic justice and civil rights in the areas of discrimination and affirmative action and to eradicate environmental classism and racism.
He will also meet with Reverend James Bush III—a Miami-based member of SCLC and the lead organizer of a community-wide fast in support of the janitors—who is on his third day of a hunger strike to support students’ and janitors’ efforts to stop the civil rights abuses on campus.
University of Miami president Donna Shalala has come under increasing scrutiny from national civil rights groups for shielding and protecting the company she hired to clean the university, UNICCO Services of Boston, despite their multi-state record of violating the rights of workers.
WHAT: News Conference
WHEN: 4:00 p.m.
WHERE: Freedom City, corner of Ponce de Leon and Stanford Dr.
Note: Charles Steele will be at Freedom City beginning at 2:00 p.m. and will be available for one-on-one interviews about the civil rights problems at the University of Miami.
"The janitors and groundskeepers on strike at the University of Miami are protesting unfair labor practices by their employer, UNICCO. Many of the alleged practices concern interference by UNICCO with the workers' legally protected rights to unionize.
The law provides two ways for workers to unionize. One is by an election run by the National Labor Relations Board. The other is by a card check process, in which workers sign cards, counted by a third party, saying that they want a union.
Unlike NLRB elections, however, card check requires the employer to agree. UNICCO refuses to agree. Why?" [continue]
At the same time, you have probably noticed something in today's Miami Herald by President Shalala saying that the university has nothing to do with this but that UNICCO's position is right and the union's wrong. You may therefore be interested to learn that the very piece in today's Sun Sentinel was rejected a few days ago by the Herald with these words from Joe Oglesby, the editor of their opinion page:
"Your piece represents a set of facts by one side of an ongoing, hotly debated dispute, about which we've published several columns from various perspectives.
When we publish the views of partisans, we find that that only generates responses from partisans on the other side who present their version of the fact just as persuasively.That puts us in the middle of a dispute in which each side demands a chance to respond to what the other has said. We're not interested in promoting that kind of fight or in becoming a part of it. Our goal is to publish thoughtful commentary, ideally by disinterested or objective parties, who can put these events in context and/or add to our collective understanding.When we find articles that do this, we will publish them."
If you feel like we do, you may want to point out to Mr. Ogelesby a small gap between his words and his deeds. You can do so at HeraldEd@MiamiHerald.com.
Tuesday, April 18, 2006
the unicco workers who are hunger-striking for their human rights at freedom village are on their 14th day of fasting. 5 of them have already been taken to the hospital. today it was pablo rodriguez's turn: he woke up feeling weak, then began to shake. his blood pressure dropped to dangerous levels. an ambulance was called and he was taken to Doctors Hospital. 5 hunger strikers remain at freedom village.
besides the hardship of conducting such a long hunger strike solely on water, these man and women are worried for their families. while other (non-hunger) strikers can still go to their second and, in some cases, third jobs, the hunger strikers are not receiving that supplemental income and their families are hurting. as they lie on their cots at freedom village, rents still need to be paid, medicines purchased, and food put on the table.
we ask that you help them and their families by clicking on the donate button on the sidebar. this will take you to paypal and you can proceed from there (we accept credit cards). if you prefer to send a check, please make it out to the Episcopal Church Center and send it to
Episcopal Church Center
1150 Stanford Dr.
Coral Gables, FL
Please write "families of hunger strikers" on your check. you can also drop off your checks directly at the church's office.
this money is not directed to the general union fund; it goes directly to the families of the hunger strikers.
thank you for your help, on behalf of clara, pablo, elsa, maria leonor, isabel, feliciano, victoria, maritza, reinaldo, and odalys.
pablo rodriguez, right, at easter sunday mass at st. augustine. immediately next to him is maria leonor ramirez, still at freedom village.
We made our way over to the UC. The students expressed their frustration that the talks held after the sit-in of March 28th had been dropped and the university was taking no steps to resolve the process. Pat Whitely said that it was her understanding that talks between UNICCO and the SEIU were on-going. The students explained that there had been no talks for nearly two weeks now and the President Shalala should demand that UNICCO start talking seriously with the SEIU immediately. Pat Whitely called President Shalala, who refused to take 30 seconds to call UNICCO and tell them to be serious, but promised she would make a call tomorrow by noon (whether to Tanya or UNICCO was unclear to me). After that, Tanya was taken to hospital, where she was given intravenous fluids. She is now doing OK.
Tanya during the meeting with Pat Whitely at the UC.
At 2pm, there was a press conference at Freedom Village. Copies of a letter were distributed in which Miami-Dade mayor Carlos Alvarez invites UNICCO to let him help mediate a solution. Mayor Alvarez says "Protests over this issue [the appropriate method for the possible establishment of a union], accompanied by a hunger strike by the employees and their supporters, have prompted a critical need to engage in heightened negotiations." It's nice to see that the mayor gets it.
Also at the press conference, striking worker Feliciano Hernandez spoke eloquently about the lack of clarity over the university's role, and of the need to give justice and dignity to the people who work there. You can hear his remarks in the following two sound recordings (he speaks in Spanish but is translated every few sentences):