Thursday, October 26, 2006

what diversity? the nova paradox

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

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

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

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

ana menendez on nova

Posted on Wed, Oct. 25, 2006
In My Opinion

Nova's diversity advocacy halts at service entry

Friday night, Nova Southeastern University President Ray Ferrero Jr. is supposed to be honored by the Urban League of Broward County as a ``Diversity Champion.''

Meanwhile, back on the Davie campus, 340 janitors and gardeners, most of them minorities, will be winding up another work week making around $7 an hour with no health insurance.

Recently, the workers voted to join a union. But a few days before the vote, the university announced it would be ''reevaluating'' its contract with the company that employs the workers, Unicco.

Now the men and women who had looked forward to more dignified treatment instead face the prospect of layoffs during the holiday season.

Nova's commitment to diversity, it would seem, ends at the service entrance.


Dorval Audanois, an immigrant from Haiti, has been tending the greenery at Nova for almost five years. He works from 7 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. and then, after a day in the sun, heads to night school to study English and math. He makes $7.73 an hour and lives next to an auto-repair shop on a dead-end street near Opa-locka Boulevard.

Audanois, 62, has never met President Ferrero, nor does he expect to. But if he did, he knows the first thing he would ask him.

''Is he not a human being like us? If he gets sick, doesn't he have to go to the doctor?'' he said at his home Monday night. ``Just because we are poor, does this mean we do not need the same thing?''

The campaign to organize janitors began at the University of Miami in March.

After janitors walked off the job, UM president Donna Shalala announced a plan to guarantee good wages and healthcare to workers under contract to the university.

The UM janitors finally voted to join a union this summer. A month ago, FIU announced it was bringing its own janitors back home, giving current workers first chance at new jobs that offer living wages and full benefits. At UM, where the fight was more protracted, faculty and students played a crucial role in persuading university administrators to do right by its janitors.

Not so at Nova, where the faculty does not have a union and only law school professors have the option of tenure. Without the security needed to publicly support the aspirations of the janitors, Nova professors have not been in a position to pressure the university.


As a result, Nova, unique among the big three regional universities, now seems poised to betray its most vulnerable workers -- 95 percent of whom are African American, Latino or Haitian, according to the union.

It's a sad irony for a university that has tried to be a leader in attracting and graduating minorities, one of the accomplishments for which Ferrero is to be honored Friday.

The Broward League's dinner to honor Ferrero and three others will take place at Marriott's Harbor Beach Resort and Spa in Fort Lauderdale. The invitation says corporate sponsorships start at $3,500 and individual tickets are $200.

Lisa Barker, who helps coordinate special events at the league, confirmed the award but couldn't offer any more information. Two calls to Nova spokesman David Dawson requesting comment went unanswered.

Last week, Dawson told The Miami Herald's Dani McClain that the university is considering a ''range of options'' that include keeping Unicco.

''A private business has the right to run a private business on behalf of its customers,'' Dawson said. ``Our customers just happen to be students.''

Our customers just happen to be students? Wow. As a university motto, it may not quite reach the heights of UM's ''Magna est veritas'' but at least it gets the point across: Ideals are for paying customers only.

There's a fancy party Friday that proves you need not worry about anyone else.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

protest gubernatorial debate at NOVA on tuesday


The Gubernatorial debate should not be held at Nova Southeastern University, an institution that is on the verge of throwing 350 hardworking janitors, landscapers, maintenance workers, and shuttle bus drivers out of their jobs.

This Tuesday, gubernatorial candidates are set to face off in a debate about Florida's future for its families, working people, and communities.

But at Nova, 350 working families may soon be left destitute as Nova has said it is canceling its contract with UNICCO, the cleaning contractor that employs the workers. Nova refuses to commit to retaining the workers, or making sure the new contractor hires them.

The debate for Florida's highest office should be held at a public venue that respects working people, not a private institution which has denied improving jobs and working conditions for its mostly Latino and Haitian workforce.


Join SEIU Local 11 in a protest at Nova
Tuesday, October 24th


Wednesday, October 18, 2006


Emergency Community Meeting to Defend Working Families
Saturday, October 21
5:00-6:00 p.m.
Emmanuel Haitian Baptiste Church
7321 NE 2nd Ave. Miami

Call Kathy at 786-210-9030 for more information


The Latino and Haitian community in Broward County are facing a major crisis as 350 Latino and Haitian workers could lose their jobs and their families could be left destitute. These 350 janitors, groundskeepers, maintenance staff, and shuttle bus drivers employed by UNICCO at Nova Southeastern University voted for a union last week.Within hours of learning that UNICCO was moving to recognize the union, Nova President Ferrero, rather than support a responsible contractor, notified faculty and staff that he intended to put the contract out to bid. Nova did not commit to retaining the UNICCO employees.

95% of those affected are from immigrant and minority communities, predominantly Haitian, Colombian, Puerto Rican and African-American.


* Janitors at Nova earn wages as low as $6.50 per hour, while living in a county with a $10.15 per hour
living wage commitment.[1]
* They receive no health insurance.
* Unfair and unsafe working conditions; dozens of Nova's Haitian landscapers work outside with no
sheltered break area and no access to drinking water


Broward County has exhibited excellent values and standards of caring for its citizens, as evidenced by the living wage ordinance and the $120,338,790 budgeted for community services[2]; why shouldn't Nova University, a premier Broward institution, uphold the same standards?

- Nova received over $18.4 million in federal, state, and local government funding in 2004[3]. By 2010, Broward County government will have spent $22 million on capital improvements at the Alvin Sherman Library on Nova's campus alone.[4]
- Since 1990, Broward County's population has grown by 22%[5], but the number of people in poverty has grown by 89%[6].


[1] Broward county Office of Professional Standards
[2] Broward County 2007 Budget
[3] IRS Form 990 filed by Nova Southeastern University for year ending July 2004.
[4] Contract agreement between Nova Southeastern University and Broward County for the Alvin Sherman library.
[5] Broward County Planning Services Division 'Population Characteristics' publication. Available online at:
[6] The U.S. Censes poverty figure for Broward county in 1989 was 115,581 people and in 2003 was 217,958 people. This represents a growth of 89% over the ten-yr period. Data available online at

wal-mart workers protest in hialeah gardens

i wish i had known about this. this blog is by liza featherstone, who writes about labor for the nation. also in this blog: starbucks is not a worker's paradise.

Retail Workers Fight Back
by The Nation

Yesterday, more than 200 Wal-Mart workers held a demonstration in front of a Wal-Mart store in Hialeah Gardens, Florida. In the first significant protest ever organized by Wal-Mart employees in the United States, workers objected to managers cutting their hours, and to the company's insistence on employees' "open availability," as well as to a new, more stringent attendance policy. It's courageous of these workers, who are part of a Florida group called "Associates at Wal-Mart," to speak out publicly and demand better treatment. Let's hope their protest is a turning point in the fight for workers' rights at Wal-Mart, and that more workers will be emboldened by the Florida workers' example and begin to organize. Too much of the debate over Wal-Mart takes place without the perspective of the true experts -- the workers themselves.

Speaking of retail workers, the IWW's Starbucks campaign -- which I've mentioned on this blog before -- is growing, and having some encouraging effects. Workers have organized in New York City, and, this summer, Chicago. Last week, the company raised its Chicago workers' wages, increasing starting pay by thirty cents (to $7.80) and promising that if an employee gets a favorable performance review, her pay will go up to $8.58 after six months. New York City workers will make $9.63 an hour after six months on the job (and a favorable review), which means that the IWW campaign will have raised many employees' wages by nearly 25% in two and a half years. The company insists that the raise has nothing to do with the union, but that claim simply isn't credible. As Daniel Gross, who was recently fired for from Starbucks for union organizing, points out, the wage increase "isn't justified by macroeconomic factors, or by any factors other than the union. Real wages for other workers in New York City haven't increased by 25%, or anywhere near that!"

Of course, as Daniel points out, even with the increase, Starbucks workers do not make a living wage. He also stresses that the wage increase needs to be viewed in the context of Starbucks' anti-union campaign: "The company still doesn't recognize the union's right to exist." Starbucks still has a long way to go before the reality behind its counters matches its socially-responsible image.

Friday, October 06, 2006

The War Against Wages

paul krugman on the erosion of labor protection in the US, especially after tuesday's NLRB decision to expand the definition of supervisor (note: this is the same NLRB which is supposed to administer workers' election for form unions, and which the Employee Free Choice Act would protect our workers from by forcing employers to accept majority sign-up, also knows as "card check." it is now heavily stacked with republican, anti-labor appointees):

The War Against Wages

Published: October 6, 2006

Should we be cheering over the fact that the Dow Jones Industrial Average has finally set a new record? No. The Dow is doing well largely because American employers are waging a successful war against wages. Economic growth since early 2000, when the Dow reached its previous peak, hasn't been exceptional. But after-tax corporate profits have more than doubled, because workers' productivity is up, but their wages aren't - and because companies have dealt with rising health insurance premiums by denying insurance to ever more workers.

If you want to see how the war against wages is being fought, and what it's doing to working Americans and their families, consider the latest news from Wal-Mart.

Wal-Mart already has a well-deserved reputation for paying low wages and offering few benefits to its employees; last year, an internal Wal-Mart memo conceded that 46 percent of its workers' children were either on Medicaid or lacked health insurance. Nonetheless, the memo expressed concern that wages and benefits were rising, in part "because we pay an associate more in salary and benefits as his or her tenure increases."

The problem from the company's point of view, then, is that its workers are too loyal; it wants cheap labor that doesn't hang around too long, but not enough workers quit before acquiring the right to higher wages and benefits. Among the policy changes the memo suggested to deal with this problem was a shift to hiring more part-time workers, which "will lower Wal-Mart's health care enrollment."

And the strategy is being put into effect. "Investment analysts and store managers," reports The New York Times, "say Wal-Mart executives have told them the company wants to transform its work force to 40 percent part-time from 20 percent." Another leaked Wal-Mart memo describes a plan to impose wage caps, so that long-term employees won't get raises. And the company is taking other steps to keep workers from staying too long: in some stores, according to workers, "managers have suddenly barred older employees with back or leg problems from sitting on stools."

It's a brutal strategy. Once upon a time a company that treated its workers this badly would have made itself a prime target for union organizers. But Wal-Mart doesn't have to worry about that, because it knows that these days the people who are supposed to enforce labor laws are on the side of the employers, not the workers.

Since 1935, U.S. workers considering whether to join a union have been protected by the National Labor Relations Act, which bars employers from firing workers for engaging in union activities. For a long time the law was effective: workers were reasonably well protected against employer intimidation, and the union movement flourished.

In the 1970's, however, employers began a successful campaign to roll back unions. This campaign depended on routine violation of labor law: experts estimate that by 1980 employers were illegally firing at least one out of every 20 workers who voted for a union. But employers rarely faced serious consequences for their lawbreaking, thanks to America's political shift to the right. And now that the shift to the right has gone even further, political appointees are seeking to remove whatever protection for workers' rights that the labor relations law still provides.

The Republican majority on the National Labor Relations Board, which is responsible for enforcing the law, has just declared that millions of workers who thought they had the right to join unions don't. You see, the act grants that right only to workers who aren't supervisors. And the board, ruling on a case involving nurses, has declared that millions of workers who occasionally give other workers instructions can now be considered supervisors.

As the dissent from the Democrats on the board makes clear, the majority bent over backward, violating the spirit of the law, to reduce workers' bargaining power.

So what's keeping paychecks down? Major employers like Wal-Mart have decided that their interests are best served by treating workers as a disposable commodity, paid as little as possible and encouraged to leave after a year or two. And these employers don't worry that angry workers will respond to their war on wages by forming unions, because they know that government officials, who are supposed to protect workers' rights, will do everything they can to come down on the side of the wage-cutters.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

UNICCO employees at NOVA vote to unionize


Nova Southeastern University janitors OK union representation

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


Nova Southeastern University janitors approve union representation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

FIU does the right thing: a column by ana menendez

things are definitely astir in south florida universities. last week, FIU accepted its janitors' union drive, rescinded its contract with UNICCO, and will rehire the janitors directly. the janitors previously hired by UNICCO will be given precedence over other applicants. they will be unionized with the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees. the SEIU helped greatly in this effort. now it's NOVA's turn to do the right thing...

FIU opts to do the right thing about janitors


In the end, there were some things more important than money. It's going to cost at least $1.8 million more a year but Florida International University is bringing its janitors back home.

As state employees, they'll have access to benefits that until now were beyond their reach and increasingly are the stuff of dreams for many hourly workers: healthcare, vacations and salaries that allow them to live, if not comfortably, at least above the poverty line.

''We needed to take the high road on this. We needed to do what was right,'' said FIU's chief financial officer Vivian Sanchez, who credited university President Modesto Maidique with the call to end 10 years of outsourcing custodial work.

At a time when more and more businesses live in thrall of accountants, FIU's new plan for its janitors shows that doing the right thing sometimes has value beyond the bottom line.

FIU may have been inspired by the protracted and sometimes ugly fight to unionize janitors at the University of Miami. Sanchez acknowledged that they were ''sensitized'' to the issue by the strike at UM and the publicity it generated.

But in contrast to UM, where the faculty last week chastised the administration for its handling of campus protests, FIU met the issue with grace.

It's a move that is no less laudable for being shrewd. FIU is in the midst of a remarkable expansion that is not just remaking the physical campus but also is transforming the university's idea of itself.

In 20 years, FIU has gone from being the scrappy local state school to a leading research and academic institution.

Last week it also became a leader in the push to make South Florida a more humane place to live and work.

''I wish the big companies would follow,'' said Tom Beasley, president of the university chapter of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, the union that will represent the janitors.

''This is a very difficult and expensive town to live in. And these folks, they're making the lowest wages possible while trying to live in this community,'' he said. ``And we need them. We all function together and have responsibilities to each other.''

Miami-Dade's billion-dollar skyline overshadows one of the poorest communities in the country, a city where one in every five people lives below the poverty line. In Florida, more than 3 million people don't have health insurance.

The reasons are many, but one trend that has exacerbated the plight of the working poor is the move to outsource jobs. It saves companies money, but often hurts the most vulnerable workers, stripping them of group health insurance.

Nationwide, most of the 9 million children without health insurance today have at least one parent who works full-time, according to a new report by the group Families USA, which advocates universal health care. In many ways, they were the perfect target of unionizing drives in South Florida: the men and women who scrub the floors and toilets at the highest centers of learning.

Lots of businesses need a good shaming in this town, but few were easier to embarrass than universities that, while raising millions, paid their humblest workers pennies.

After the UM janitors walked out, the story of men and women trying to get by on as little as $6.40 an hour resonated in a place where a middle class feels increasingly embattled.

Now the two largest universities have moved to do right by their janitors; only Nova Southeastern remains. Nova's announcement -- in the middle of a union drive -- that it may rebid its contract with the company that provides custodial services is troubling.

FIU may have acted out of pressure, but the university also spoke its conviction, one that other large businesses should follow: that every working person, no matter their education or job skills, is entitled to fair treatment and respect.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

things not very cool at NOVA


NSU to redo janitor contract

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Renee Asher SEIU Communications 202-255-4251