Sunday, May 20, 2007

fisher island busser fired for demonstrating with union

Fantasy Island is anything but for its workers

ive as the Vanderbilts did, only better.'' That's the motto of Fisher Island, the reality-free zone off the coast of Miami Beach whose marketing describes it as a ``residential community of unrivaled luxury and splendor.''

Fisher Island floats in a world of its own. Rich, inaccessible and exclusive, it has just become the perfect fantasy island of opportunity for union organizers.

SEIU, the union that helped secure healthcare and higher wages for University of Miami janitors last year, has taken up the cause of the workers who keep Fisher Island splendorous.

A week ago, the union helped organize a protest near the ferry terminal off the MacArthur Causeway. And Friday, SEIU filed charges with the National Labor Relations Board on behalf of a worker who says he was fired for his union support.


The worker, Jose Rojas had been a busser at the Café Porto Cervo since 2000, he told me Friday. He made $6 an hour plus tips, and though he could pay the $63 bi-weekly insurance, many of his colleagues could not afford to include their children on the plan.

So he took part in the protest outside the terminal May 4.

''I knew it was going to be a problem,'' he said. ''But I thought if I had the chance to get better benefits, I had the right to try.'' When he got to work later that afternoon, a supervisor began to make disparaging remarks, he says.

''He told me I looked like a delinquent and that 'unions are for blacks,''' Rojas said. ``I told him, you can disagree with unions, but there's no need to say that.''

Wednesday, Rojas says he was fired for ''disrespecting'' his superior.

Café management declined comment Friday. Café Porto Cervo, like most of Fisher Island, is off limits to the uninitiated. The Fisher Island website says the café was ''inspired by a superb restaurant in Costa Smeralda, Sardinia.'' A friend tried to make reservations for us Friday night, only to be told it was for members only.

Friday afternoon, I drove to the terminal, hoping to get onto the island to interview Fisher Island Club general manager John Iannotti. I waited in my car while a ferry docked and workers graciously sprayed the disembarking Mercedes and BMWs with water. My car could have benefited from a similar baptism. Alas, I was turned around before I could board the ferry, told that Iannotti was too busy to see me.

His secretary forwarded a statement: ``Even though a charge has been filed, we feel it has no merit and we will vigorously defend it. No further comment.''


Fisher Island, with its cartoonish wealth, may seem too easy a target. But it's a powerful metaphor for a society where the rich grow more comfortable, the poor sink further and the elected do nothing. For proof, see the property tax hysteria, where legislators sought to appease voters by hiking the sales tax -- the one tax that disproportionally affects the poor.

SEIU has made unprecedented gains across the south by emphasizing the ballooning disparity between rich and poor. Union organizers have succeeded not by duping ''unsophisticated'' workers, but because those workers know they are being duped by a system that promises opportunity and delivers only deeper inequality.

''This is the richest country in the world,'' said Rabbi Rebecca Lillian at a gathering Friday. ``Why do we even have a category called the working poor?''

Unions may not be the solution everyone wants. But its leaders are addressing issues that few others have the courage to touch.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

free haleh esfandiari

from laila lalami's excellent blog:
As you may have heard, Iranian-American scholar Haleh Esfandiari, the director of the Middle East Program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, has been detained in Iran. She had traveled to the country of her birth to visit her 93-year-old mother. She was on her way to Tehran's international airport on December 30, when masked gunmen stopped her taxi and stole her belongings, including her Iranian and U.S. passports. She was then effectively under house arrest for four months, and then on May 8 she was taken to the notorious Evin Prison, where political prisoners are held and sometimes tortured. There have been no news of her since she was taken there. Please sign the petition for her release. More info about her here.
juan cole weighs on this important issue too.

UN official urges US to protect migrant rights

thanks to jeanette smith of miami quakers for keeping me and others up to date on immigration issues.

U.N. official urges U.S. to protect migrant rights

The Associated Press
Friday, May 18, 2007

WASHINGTON: A United Nations human rights expert urged the United States on Friday to enforce polices to protect the rights of migrants, as he wrapped up a nearly three-week U.S. tour focusing on the plight of migrants.

Jorge Bustamante, the U.N. Human Rights Council's independent expert on migrant rights, expressed concern that the United States has no central system for families to get information about loved ones arrested by immigration officials.

Bustamante, who is from Mexico, also said he was disappointed that U.S. officials canceled his planned visits to two detention centers. Although he visited another detention center, he said the cancellations were an obstacle to getting his job done.

"I didn't have any explanation," he told reporters of the cancelations.

Bustamante is expected to formally present his findings to the U.N. rights council in June.

During his 18-day visit, he toured the U.S. border with Mexico and watched U.S. immigration officials at work. He met with migrants and rights groups in several states and with U.S. officials from the Department of Homeland Security, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency and the State Department.

The visit, he said, showed migrants' worries about arbitrary detention, bad conditions at detention facilities and racial discrimination.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

illegal immigrant about senate deal: "i think i'll stay illegal"

from the miami herald:

Illegal immigrants question Senate deal

David Guerra wants to be legal, but he says the path to citizenship offered by the Senate on Thursday would be too risky and too expensive, and could end up driving him deeper into the shadows.

Guerra's wife and children in El Salvador depend on the $300 he sends home each month from his job as a day laborer. Key provisions of the legislation would require him to return home to apply for residency, pay a $5,000 fine and spend thousands more in application fees.

That would be disastrous for his family, he said, and, worse, he's not sure he can trust U.S. immigration authorities who have been rounding up and deporting his fellow immigrants for months.

"If I go home, who is going to guarantee that I'll be let back in?" said the 44-year-old who lays bricks, clears weeds and does landscaping.

Across the nation, illegal immigrants, many of whom toil in dirty, low-paying jobs, sharply criticized the Senate's immigration overhaul package as overly burdensome and impractical.

"Where would I find $5,000? In two years, I don't get $5,000," said Daniel Carrillo Maldonado, an illegal immigrant who was looking for construction work outside a Home Depot in Phoenix.

The agreement between the Senate and White House would allow illegal immigrants to obtain a special visa. After paying fees and the fine, they could get on a path to permanent residency that could take eight to 13 years. Heads of household would have to return to their home countries first.

Some illegal immigrants said returning home presented another major hurdle: Applying for residency at U.S. embassies in their home countries.

Amy Ndour, a 23-year-old illegal immigrant from Senegal who lives in New York, said she would be willing to pay the $5,000 fine, but not return home because her family there depends on what she earns as a hair braider.

"I'm helping myself" here, she said. "I'm helping people there too."

Karina Corona, 32, an illegal immigrant from San Diego, works seven days a week at two jobs - one at a delicatessen and another as a seamstress. She said $5,000 is a small price to pay.

"Compared with the better jobs you can get, it's nothing. It's well worth it," she said.

Carlos Velazquez, a 40-year-old illegal immigrant in Los Angeles, said he applied twice for visas in Honduras, and both times had to pay several bribes to local embassy staff.

"Only with money will the monkey dance," said Velazquez, using an idiomatic expression to refer to bribes.

The Senate agreement includes a so-called "point system," which for the first time would prioritize immigrants' education and skill level over family connections in deciding how to award green cards that allow permanent residency.

Family connections alone would no longer be enough to qualify for a green card - except for spouses and minor children of U.S. citizens. And new limits would apply to U.S. citizens seeking to bring foreign-born parents into the country.

Many illegal immigrants said they had little incentive to apply for residency because the process was long and did not offer much hope of bringing their families.

"If I'll never be able to bring my family, why should I apply?" said Jose Monson, a 33-year-old illegal immigrant from Guatemala who has lived in Los Angeles for four years. "I prefer to just stay here illegally."

"If I get deported and need to cross the border again, that's not a problem," he said.

Several unions, which have many immigrants in their ranks, took issue with the creation of a new temporary guest worker program.

New workers would have to return home after two-year stints, with little opportunity to gain permanent legal status or ever become U.S. citizens. They could renew their guest worker visas twice, but would be required to leave for a year between each stint.

"Temporary workers depress wages and create a second-class work force that is disconnected from the U.S. mainstream and not equal," said Eliseo Medina, executive vice president of the Service Employees International Union.

Pablo Alvarado, director of the National Day Labor Organizing Network, said the guest worker component would likely exacerbate rhetoric between anti-illegal immigration groups and immigration groups. Groups such as the Minutemen regularly stage protests in front of day labor centers.

"You will still have the anti-immigrant organizations blaming immigrants for depressed wages," Alvarado said.

Still, the agreement gave some hope.

In Houston, Marco Antonio Rodiguez, said he would be happy with a permit that would allow him to work legally and return to Mexico twice a year to see his wife and three children.

"Immigration reform would benefit us so much, both ourselves and families," said Rodriguez, a 48-year-old illegal immigrant who does odd jobs. "We want the law to be approved. I'm praying to God that it passes."

Pascual Bravo, an illegal immigrant who works at a construction company in Middletown, N.Y., was also eager to achieve legal status.

Bravo, 49, last crossed the border in Arizona eight years ago, paying a smuggler $1,800. "I miss my country," he said.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

press coverage of yesterday's march

from the miami herald


Nova Southeastern University marchers rally for wages, jobs

Protesters interrupted dinner on Las Olas Boulevard on Saturday, calling for better working conditions and higher wages for workers at Nova Southeastern University.


Marching past the al fresco restaurants, galleries and banks on Las Olas Boulevard, about 200 people rallied Saturday to protest conditions for cleaning and maintenance workers at Nova Southeastern University.

''I'm struggling to survive,'' said Fritz Hector, 42, who said he and his wife recently lost their Nova cleaning jobs. ``This is why I'm here today, to get my job back.''

The two-hour rally -- timed to coincide with the peak dinner hour -- aimed to call attention to the plight of workers like Hector and to call for higher wages at the university, whose main campus is in Davie.

NSU workers -- mostly doing cleaning, maintenance and landscaping -- voted last fall to join the Service Employees International Union. Days later, NSU told the contractor that employed the workers, Unicco, that it was rebidding the cleaning contract. It eventually replaced Unicco with several smaller firms, and workers were told to reapply for their jobs.

read the rest of this article

from the sun-sentinel

March on Las Olas

Service workers who lost jobs cry, `Shame on Nova!'

By Tonya Alanez
South Florida Sun-Sentinel
Posted April 15 2007

The evening calm on Fort Lauderdale's most famous street was punctured Saturday when hundreds of chanting, clapping marchers paraded down Las Olas Boulevard to demand that service workers who lost their jobs at Nova Southeastern University be reinstated.

Diners, waiters and others stood on the sidewalks to watch the uncommon spectacle of a workers' protest in the heart of the city's most fashionable dining and shopping district. Some onlookers waved and flashed an approving thumbs up to the 300-plus marchers. One female diner shot them a disapproving gesture.

Some patrons of the many outdoor restaurants on Las Olas watched bewildered, wineglasses in hand, unaware of the plight of the 108 Nova janitors and groundskeepers who lost their jobs in February after they sought higher wages and health benefits. Some had been earning $7 an hour with no benefits.

read the rest of this article

Saturday, April 14, 2007

300 people rally and march in support of fired nova janitors

at the end, al sharpton couldn't make it. but a lot of other people could, including representatives of the united faculty of florida, unite here, seiu local 11, florida healthcare union, the labor international union, fanm, acorn, and naacp.

(captions tomorrow. i want to get the pictures out asap!)

the rally:

the march:

300 people on las olas blvd in downtown fort lauderdale on a saturday evening, chanting "shame on nova" for the ears of unsuspecting diners? powerful.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Rally with Al Sharpton in support of Nova workers, Saturday April 14th

March with the Rev. Al Sharpton, Bishop Victor Curry and Father Jean-Juste in support of the Displaced Nova Workers and all working families.

300 mostly Haitian and Latino workers are taking on Nova Southeastern University to defend their right to choose a union.

Join us as we call on Nova to re-instate the displaced and instruct its contractors to respect their decision to form a union.


RALLY IN STRANAHAN PARK (corner of Broward Blvd and Andrews Ave: parking City Park Garage S.E. 1st Ave and 2nd St)


For more information call 786 210 9030 or visit

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Nova Southeastern University + Walmart = exploitation

from the student-run Nova newspaper, The Current:

Job Fair Held for Employees Laid Off During Contractor Change

Proponents of union call move by university “outrageous”

By Alisha VanHoose

In an attempt to assist displaced UNICCO employees, NSU teamed up with employment agency Workforce One to hold a job fair on March 23 for. Some of those who pushed for a union and feel that they lost their jobs because of it, however, are not amused.

“I think we continue to make every effort to make sure all the employees are taken care of,” said George Hanbury, Chief Operating Officer for NSU, adding that the university had been working with Workforce One and other agencies, and this was the fourth job fair it had requested to be held.

It was estimated that between 60 and 70 people attended the fair. “I did receive word that it was a very good job fair,” said Hanbury. “It was well received; there were about 15 employers there, including our own contractors.”

The fair was not well received by everyone, however.

“We were rather outraged by the whole thing,” said SEIU organizer Hiram Ruiz. “Some of the contractors are still advertising for the positions that used to belong to these people.” He went on to call the university’s move “outrageous” and “scandalous,” citing in particular that the fair included companies like Wal-Mart, “the king of bottom-dwelling employers.”

Former lead painter Steve McGonigle said that he attended the fair and saw many of the other employees that were laid off there, but the jobs offered there were not in the same vein as his experience.

“I don’t think Ray Ferrero can do anything for me unless I get my job back,” he said.

Hanbury restated that the university “cannot tell people who to hire, but we can make it possible for other employers to see if they want these individuals to work for them.” He also mentioned that the number of laid-off employees still waiting to be hired was diminishing.

McGonigle maintains that this isn’t enough, and continues to blame NSU President Ray Ferrero for the layoffs.

“All of this isn’t curing what Mr. Ferrero has done,” he said. “This isn’t going to get better, it’s just going to get worse until Mr. Ferrero does the right thing.” The right thing, as far as McGonigle and many of the other workers who were laid off are concerned, is to ensure that each employee who lost their job during the contractor job is guaranteed a new one on campus.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Ferrero to janitors: "Get a job at Walmart"

this is unbelievable.
(all italics mine)

Low-wage jobs no substitution for good, union jobs say displaced workers at Nova Southeastern University

Davie, Fl—

Workers displaced from their jobs at Nova Southeastern University after a year long fight to transform $7 an hour no-benefits jobs into higher paying jobs with health insurance, spoke out against an University gambit to resolve the crisis by encouraging workers to take temporary low-wage jobs at retailers like Wal-Mart. Nova, in cooperation with Workforce One, will hold a job fair tomorrow morning for displaced workers.

"Nova’s message to the mostly poor and minority workers who lost their jobs is ‘don’t worry, we’ll help you get another low-wage job’ but it should be ‘don’t worry we’ll make sure you are rehired and that you get the union you voted for,” said fired painter Steve McGonigle, “All we want is for Nova to do what other universities in the area have already done—institute a standard that creates good jobs that give back to the community, rather than low-wage jobs that do nothing but breed poverty.”

“We want a future that gives us an opportunity to join the middle class. Nova’s wacky strategy to stop us from having the union we voted for, the union we have a legal right to, does a great disservice to the students, to the board, and to all of Broward County. So we say thank you for the opportunity to look for work, but unless they are good jobs, then we say no thank you.”

Civil rights leaders including a growing list of national leaders, religious leaders and political leaders have now zeroed in on the situation at Nova as the front line of a larger battle—what rights do workers of color truly have, and what do we need to do as a community to safeguard those rights?


The University announced that it was putting their facility management contracts out to bid and ending its decade long relationship with Unicco Services, after Unicco workers on campus voted to form a union. The university replaced Unicco with nearly a dozen small contractors forcing the workers to reapply for their jobs with the new contractors.

Displaced workers have filed charges with the NLRB against Nova Southeastern for trying to thwart the workers right to a union. While other Universities in South Florida have raised standards, wages and provided health insurance for the contract workers on campus, NSU has fought the workers on campus trying to secure living wages, health benefits and a voice on the job.

Janitors at NSU earn less and have fewer benefits than their co-workers at other South Florida universities, including the University of Miami and Florida International University. Janitors at NSU earn just over $7.00 per hour, far less than the county living wage of $11.48 per hour. Providing health insurance and higher wages would only cost the University $1.1 million a year.

Labor Troubles in Haiti

This just in from Batay Ouvriye:

Anti-union dismissals at the brewery in Cap-Haïtien- 17 March 2007

After the dramatic events of 2003, when the management of the Brasserie du Nord (owned by Michael Madsen, a rich businessman of Danish descent and a leader of the Haitian Liberal Party) had several workers beaten and imprisoned for claiming their labour and union rights (see and, the same reprehensible and antiquated anti-trade union practices are now being repeated.

On February 5, 2007, the trade union submitted to the company management the provisional registration authorising it to function that had been issued by the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labour. Then, in the following few days, first the union's treasurer was dismissed, and then 45 other workers were fired. The near total solidarity of the remainder of the workers at the establishment suggested that they would soon follow.

Then, this week, the Brasserie du Nord closed its doors altogether. Is it a lockout? No notification was given to the Ministry's Labour Office, and consequently the brewery workers consider that it is a clear incident of abuse by the employer and that they are owed all their salaries for this period. They have sent a formal letter demanding the urgent intervention of the Ministry concerned.

At Batay Ouvriye, we are continuing and will continue to stand up against such abuses of the basic rights of workers in Haiti. Remember that the Brasserie du Nord is the distributor of Pepsi-Cola, Prestige beer, and King Cola, for all this area of the country.



Thursday, March 22, 2007

labor games; don't let nova win!

the website that hosts our petition to nova president ray ferrero contain google-sponsored ads. this means that google picks up key words in the text of the petition and, through its magic and highly effective formula, attaches relevant ads on the side and top bars. the following two are the most prominent ads at the time of my writing:

1) Center for Union Facts -- Facts That Union Leader Don't Want You to Know

2) Nova Southeastern University -- Move your career forward with an accredited online degree!

these two ads have been very visible on the margins of our petition for the last two days, since i put the petition up, and i must say that i find it pleasantly ironic: while we ask that nova honor the union vote of its employees and give them fair wages and health care, something nova is not doing because it has chosen to hire a cheaper contractor (see ana menendez's recent article on this), nova is spending its money advertising on the margins of our petition! hey nova: how about you cut on the advertising and treat your janitors fairly?

and then of course there's the highly profitable and booming business of union busting, offered for a high price by so-called "labor relations consultants" or, in this case, political front organizations (see our story on the Center for Union Facts). businesses love them. for some reason that honestly escapes me (it really does), they prefer to spend their cash on union busting than on living wages for their poorest workers.

when i told a friend about nova's firings of the union leaders, she asked if it was legal. no, actually, it isn't. but large companies like nova have the resources to get away with it. here's an extract from an article published in the april 18, 2005 issue of the nation magazine:
Some 57 million nonunion workers in the United States say they would form a union tomorrow if given the chance, according to new poll conducted in February by Peter D. Hart and Associates. For many of them, especially women and people of color, having a union is often the difference between living in or out of poverty. Yet the truth is that a sophisticated and systematic effort to deny workers their basic freedom of association is rampant in this country.

Employers and antiunion consultants have effectively thwarted the intent and efficacy of the law that supposedly guarantees workers the freedom to form unions, a human right protected by the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights and recognized by the US government thirteen years earlier in the National Labor Relations Act.

To put it in perspective: More than 20,000 US workers were fired or discriminated against for union activities, according to a National Labor Relations Board annual report. That amounts to a worker in this country being fired or discriminated against every twenty-six minutes for exercising the basic human right to form or join a union. Most employers infringe on workers' freedom to make their own decisions--routinely using legal and illegal tactics to thwart their efforts--according to Cornell University researcher Kate Bronfenbrenner. Fully one-quarter of private-sector employers illegally fire workers. And even after workers jump through all the hoops under current law and win recognition for their union, employers refuse to agree to initial collective bargaining contracts nearly half the time. This is a moral outrage.

Simply put: Our labor laws are so weak that employers routinely get away with breaking them, and when they are punished the penalties are insufficient to deter other unscrupulous employers from breaking the law. Right now the only penalty for most violations of the rights of workers to form unions is that the company must post a notice stating that it violated the law. Sometimes it takes several years before that happens, long after the effort to form a union has ended.

don't let nova win on this one. let our politicians and our community hear that you care. sign the online petition in support of the nova janitors!

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

sign the petition!

Dear President Ferrero,

There are 100 families in Broward that have not seen a paycheck for several weeks. Some of these employees have worked at Nova for years and it won't be easy for them to find new employment. It was easier for Nova to abandon these workers to financial insecurity and hardship than to allow for the improved working conditions that union bargaining would have facilitated.

This is a shame and a blight on an academic institution that contends it aims at excellence. Excellence is incompatible with the environment fostered by such blatant disregard of fair and humane treatment of employees.

Even as other South Florida universities such as the University of Miami and Florida International University are now offering fair contracts and higher standards to a body of unionized janitors, Nova persists in its refusal to provide fair wages, access to health care, and justice for its employees.

We ask that you:

* Instruct your new contractors to offer jobs to the ex-Unicco employees who were unfairly fired and are still available for work;
* Instruct your contractors to recognize and bargain with the SEIU;
* Provide sufficient resources for the contractors to negotiate living wages and access to health care.


sign here

Give 'em hell, Steve McGonigle!

Even though he had a good job and was making good money, Steve McGonigle, a painter at Nova, fought alongside the other workers for decent wages and a voice on the job. On February 19, he found himself fired along 107 of his colleagues (in this picture, taken on that day, Steve is the tall guy at the back, with grey hair).

Yesterday Steve, who has been working tirelessly to see justice done at Nova, appeared in front of Broward commissioner and asked that they pull NSU funds. The Miami Herald covered it:

Activist urges penalty for NSU

A fired painter active in the drive to organize janitors at Nova Southeastern University urged Broward County commissioners to take action against the school, whose decision to switch maintenance contractors squelched the fledgling union.

Steve McGonigle hinted that commissioners could use the power of the purse to respond to Nova, located in Davie. The county pays at least 40 percent of operating costs for the library each year -- likely $5 million to $6 million in 2007-08.

''Nova has no problem coming to taxpayers when they are looking for money but don't have any problem stomping on the workers and low-wage earners,'' said McGonigle, of Tamarac.

The union has said about 100 low-wage workers lost their jobs earlier this year after Nova switched janitorial contracts.

County commissioners have said they will take a closer look at the arrangement with Nova in the coming months, during budget planning. But if Broward cuts off funds, the public would loses access. Most library users are county residents who are not enrolled and Nova employees, according to the university.

Nearly all of the county commissioners have publicly criticized Nova's administration, including its president, Ray Ferrero Jr.

Commissioners Stacy Ritter and John Rodstrom said that, as Nova law school graduates, they are embarrassed by their alma mater.

''I think the commission is quite surprised that such an institution with such a formerly good reputation would decide to do something like this,'' Commissioner Sue Gunzburger said. ``The other university in Miami, they found a solution.''

(link to herald article)

Steve is in for the long haul. Here is what he wrote in an email yesterday:

I have been hearing rumblings that Mr. Ray Ferrero wants to invite us to breakfast and have a job fair on our behalf. He states that he will do anything to help us find work. Why won’t he give us our jobs back? It would be easy on him if he found us other jobs, that way we would go away and he will not have to deal with us, the Union, and the realization that he has violated our rights to organize and, in my own words, “union-busted”. As a past president stated, “Those who would destroy, or further limit, the rights of organized labor – those who cripple collective bargaining or prevent organization of the unorganized – do a disservice to the cause of democracy”. This quote describes what is being done to us; Mr. Ferrero has tried to destroy us, violated our rights to organize, tried to prevent the organization of the unorganized, and is doing a disservice to the cause of democracy, but he does not realize that a breakfast isn’t the food we need. The food we need is to be back at our jobs, providing for our families, and having respect on the job. I do not think that is too much to ask. To be treated like a human being.

The longer this goes on the more support we will get, we will not go away, we will get stronger. And as I told the Broward County Commissioners this morning, “I am a firm believer that the squeaky wheel gets the oil." I am going to keep on squeaking until we get the oil we need.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

A message to the Nova faculty

Dear faculty of Nova Southeastern University,

It is hard to get political in the workplace when one works without tenure, without a union, and without guarantees that one's place at work is secure. This is why I'd like to make you a proposal. Go to the letter below and, if you share its sentiments, click on "comments." If you feel strong in your position, click "other" and write your name. If you don't, click "anonymous." Then tell the world that you are a Nova faculty member and that you don't like the way your university is behaving. Put it into writing. Make it known. The fired janitors don't need your names. They need to know you are with them.

Thank you.

UM and FIU faculty speak out on Nova janitors situtation

Nova Southeastern University is treating its janitors with a callous disregard of human decency that brings shame to the South Florida academic community. After learning that the janitors had joined the Service Employees International Union, Nova dismissed its contractor, Unicco, and solicited new bids. The janitors worked several months without knowing if they would be rehired. In spite of vague reassurances to the contrary, they weren't. The new contractor, TCB, subcontracted the cleaning and groundskeeping jobs to a number of smaller companies, which splintered the number of employers and made labor organizing all but impossible. On the day the new contractors took charge, more than one hundred janitors were turned away at the gate. They were given no notice and no explanation.

There are now 100 families in Broward that have not seen a paycheck for several weeks. Some of these employees have worked at Nova for years and it won't be easy for them to find new employment. It was easier for Nova to abandon these workers to financial insecurity and hardship than to allow for the improved working conditions that union bargaining would have
facilitated. This is a shame and a blight on an academic institution that contends it aims at excellence. Excellence is incompatible with the environment fostered by such blatant disregard of fair and humane treatment of employees. We are very proud that our universities, FIU and UM, are now offering fair contracts and higher standards to a body of unionized janitors. Our
colleagues at Nova and their students deserve a similarly fair working environment. We would like to express our solidarity with the fired Nova workers, and to voice our strongest objection to the actions of President Ferrero and his attack on workers' rights.

David Abraham, UM, Law
Elizabeth Aranda, UM, Sociology
Traci Ardren, UM, Anthropology
Anthony Barthelemy, UM, English
Marc Brudzinski, UM, Modern Languages and Literatures
Steven Butterman, UM, Modern Languages and Literatures
Linda Belgrave, UM, Sociology
Sue Ann Campbell, UM, Law
Frank Corbishley, UM, Chaplain
Lina del Castillo, UM, History
Christina Civantos, UM, Modern Languages and Literatures
Connolly, Jane, UM, Modern Languages and Literatures
Louise Davidson-Schmich, UM, Political Science
Michael Davidson-Schmich, UM, Modern Languages and Literatures
Simon Evnine, UM, Philosophy
Roger Kanet, UM, International Studies
Anthony Krupp, UM, Modern Languages and Literatures
M. Evelina Galang, UM, English
Green, Andrew, UM, English
Steven Green, UM, Biology
Alan Gummerson, FIU, Economics
Bruce Hauptli, Chairperson of FIU's Faculty Senate
April Mann, UM, English
Lillian Manzor, UM, Modern Languages and Literatures
Ambler Moss, UM, International Studies
Daniel Messinger, UM, Psychology
Bruce Nissen, FIU, Center for Labor Research and Studies
Martha Otis, UM, English
Giovanna Pompele, UM, English
Kate Ramsey, UM, History
Jeffrey Shoulson, UM, English
Harvey Siegel, UM, Philosophy
William Smith, UM, International Studies
Andrew Strycharski, UM, English
Peter Tarjan, UM, Biomedical Engineering
Hugh Thomas, UM, History
Tim Watson, UM, English
Katharine Westaway, UM, English
Richard Weisskoff, UM, International Studies
David Wilson, UM, Professor of Biology
Woshinsky, Barbara, UM, Modern Languages and Literatures

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

overwhelming support for nova workers & upcoming events!

The recent attention given to the Nova workers' crisis has been overwhelming! The swell of community support has made all the difference in the world to the workers and their families, and has included financial support, call-ins to radio shows, and physical presence at rallies. We are all truly building a labor and human rights movement in South Florida!
  • Concerned community members and organizations have partnered together under the title of "Community Project for Displaced Nova Workers" They planned an emergency meeting and picketed in front of Ray Ferrero's and George Hanbury's home. They also set up a protest outside the Signature Grand where Ray Ferrero received an award from the NCCJ-National Conference for Community and Justice (see previous post). They were joined by brothers and sisters from South Florida Jobs with Justice, Teamsters, CWA, the Lifeguard's Union, and UTD.

  • The clergy of South Florida Interfaith Worker Justice appeared on the Jim Defede show and staged silent protest inside the NCCJ award luncheon at the Signature Grand.

  • *** UPCOMING *** The Labor Committee of the NAACP Chapter of Miami-Dade County is planning a large Civil Right March on Nova in mid-April. Bishop Victor Curry will be joined by national civil rights leaders. We will be reaching out to you and the members of your organization very soon to mobilize for the Civil Right March.

  • *** UPCOMING *** On Friday March 30 the Association of Haitian Catholic Priests is planning a special Stations of the Cross in the streets of Little Haiti which will highlight the spirit of the Lenten Season and the plight of the Nova Janitors. Five Haitian Catholic Churches in Dade and Broward will come to Notre Dame Haiti Catholic Church for this religious event. They expect about 3,000 people processing in the streets of Little Haiti.

  • *** HELP *** Finally, Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Miami has launched an Emergency Fund for Displaced Nova Workers.

    Please make a donation today as more than 100 families near their 3rd week without a paycheck. Some families are already facing food and gas shortages. Check donations, and Grocery Gift Certificates are welcome. Please make checks payable to:

    Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Miami

    mail to:

    Gloria Luna
    9401 Biscayne Blvd.
    Miami Shores, FL, 33138
    Attn: Displaced Nova Workers' Fund
The workers have been aggressively looking for work, but it has been VERY difficult. Please send any job referrals you may have to:

Kathy Bird of SEIU Local 11
786 210 9030.

Most importantly, know that even after all the suffering the Nova workers have endured, THEY ARE STRONG. They are continuing to come out for leadership meetings, mobilizations, radio programs, and union/membership meetings. They know that we can and we will win this fight.

Please let Kathy know if you want a Nova worker to speak about this critical situtation at a meeting or event.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Nova president Ferrero gets diversity award

Irony is rather rich at this $100-a-plate award luncheon

Sun Sentinel, March 11, 2007

Michael Mayo
News Columnist

Last month, his university helped put 108 low-paid janitors, drivers and maintenance people out of work. On Friday, Nova Southeastern University President Ray Ferrero Jr. accepted an award from the local chapter of the National Conference for Community and Justice.

The luncheon was $100 a plate, but it included all the irony you could eat.

According to the organization's national Web site, its role is to "advocate, educate and resolve conflict -- relative to issues of discrimination and oppression."

"Giving him an award just doesn't make sense," said the Rev. Roger Holoubek, a priest at St. Maurice Catholic Church in Dania Beach. "It's a contradiction."

Holoubek was among a group of clergy and community activists who bought a $1,000 table at the Signature Grand in Davie to witness this spectacle. When Ferrero came onto the stage to accept the Leonard L. Farber Corporate Leadership Award on behalf of the university, the group staged a silent protest.

They got up from their rear table, marched single file in front of the stage, then turned and exited the ballroom. University security guards and police monitored the group. Many in the crowd gave puzzled looks as applause quickly stopped.

"It made people notice," said the Rev. Bob Tywoniak, of St. George Catholic Church in Fort Lauderdale. "A lot of the public still doesn't know what's going on. But now President Ferrero knows we're not kidding. We're still here, we're on the high road, and we're not going away."

Outside the banquet hall, a group of about 30 protesters held up mops, brooms and signs that read, "Union busting is wrong" and "Ray Ferrero is the one who should be fired." The protesters included 15 former employees of UNICCO, the contractor that was replaced by a consortium of smaller local firms last month.

Nearly a third of the 330 UNICCO employees lost their jobs in the transition. Workers were given the chance to re-apply for their jobs before the switch. Coincidentally, the ones who didn't get rehired seemed to be those most active in a successful union drive last year.

"I'm here because I want my job back," said Norcia Gabrielle, a cleaner at NSU for 11 years. She called it "a shame" that Ferrero was honored. "He did nothing for us. He doesn't care about us. The union came in through UNICCO, and then he threw UNICCO out."

Ferrero has tried to distance the university from the labor situation, but it's very much his mess. The new contractors are required to pay better and offer health benefits, but until they hire all the old workers and recognize the previously formed union, Ferrero's going to have trouble.

Now that politicians have started talking about cutting grants and other public money to the private university, he'll have to pay attention.

His students have been mostly quiet, and his scared faculty won't protest because nearly all work on contracts and don't get tenure.

"Everybody there is on a short leash," said U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Weston, who worked at NSU for 10 years and is dismayed by the university's actions and Ferrero's attitude. "We have to apply pressure in other ways."

Wasserman Schultz is still smarting from a meeting she had with Ferrero last fall. She went with state Sen. Nan Rich, D-Weston, and Broward Commissioner Kristin Jacobs to get the university's side and urge fair treatment of the workers. She said Ferrero treated her with "callous disregard."

In an interview last month, Ferrero told me, "I'm comfortable with what we've done." After he picked up the award on Friday, he said, "I'm not going to discuss or get involved with anything that [the protesters] did today."

And what about the funding threats from the politicians? "I think they're just misinformed," he said.

"Misinformed?" Wasserman Schultz said later. "That's the kind of patronizing attitude we encountered in our meeting. He's going to get a healthy dose of what a misinformed politician can do."

Welcome to your worst public relations nightmare, Nova Southeastern.

Michael Mayo can be reached at or 954-356-4508.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

support nova janitors with 1 click

The Miami-Dade County Democratic Party has a poll on their website.

Look at the bottom left of the page and vote for the party to stand with Nova workers!

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

a change of focus

Dear readers of picketline,

This blog was born as a response to the spring 2006 strike of the groundskeepers and janitors of the University of Miami. This strike, which ended successfully and earned the UM janitors the right to unionize, better wages, health insurance, seniority, more holidays, and other basic workers and human rights, is amply covered in earlier posts on this blog. We will not delete these posts. They contain the history of an important time in our lives and a series of valuable documents that might come useful for future fights in similar areas. Please read through our archives and share the joy! Indeed, se puede!

Now the focus of picketline turns to the sorry situation at Nova Southeastern University. As I write, more than 100 workers are out of a job as a consequence of joining a union. This is a crying shame and a blight on South Florida's record in the areas of workers' justice and human rights. These people fought long and hard only to see themselves turned away at the gate when they showed up for work. These are men and women with families. Some of them are not young. Some of them have worked at Nova for decades. Please see Ana Mendendez's column from March 4 Miami Herald below, and keep tuned. We need to win this fight: for the workers, for justice in the America workplace, for the health of our community, for ourselves.

the shame of NSU

Miami Herald


Nova's Ferrero ignores plight of janitors

March 4, 2007

Among university presidents in South Florida, Nova's Ray Ferrero Jr. stands in a class apart: the only leader who has proved himself utterly immune to shame.

At least 100 Nova janitors who fought for a union are out of a job, victims of the university's brazen union-busting campaign.

They include several couples like Amparo Correa and her husband Fernei Calderon, who have a small child at home; and Armando Pons and his wife Mayola Pons, who are struggling now to find new jobs at an age when most workers are looking at retirement.

''[Ferrero] has a job and a house,'' Correa told me. ``All we'd like is the opportunity to work honestly.''

Correa, Calderon and the Pons worked for Unicco, the contractor who provided janitors and other low-wage workers to the university for 12 years.

As soon as Unicco's workers voted to unionize, however, Nova administrators decided it was time to look for a new contractor.

It was an astonishingly callous move that, by the union's count, left 108 workers on the street.


And Ferrero? He has nothing to say, referring all questions to the little people -- the constellation of contractors and subcontractors who have replaced Unicco.

Ferrero's closest thing to a comment, delivered via a spokesman, was: ``We're not co-employers.''

That's just great. Dozens of people who already were living close to the margins now are without a means of supporting themselves, and the university president retreats behind spokesmen and meaningless legal mumbo-jumbo.

What a telling contrast to the way workers ultimately were treated at the University of Miami and Florida International University.

Say what you will about UM's Donna Shalala -- and I did -- but in the end, she proved she could be persuaded to do the right thing.

At FIU, President Mitch Maidique didn't let things get as far as they did at UM. Maidique, mindful of the UM fight, agreed to put FIU janitors back on the university's payroll, where in addition to higher wages, they could join the union.

Of course, at those universities the heavy persuading was done by faculty and students, who consistently and vocally supported the janitors.

That support never materialized at Nova, perhaps because it's an all-contract university. Not only is the faculty not unionized, but many of them don't even get tenure.

Besides, Ferrero, in contrast to his more flamboyant counterparts in Miami, keeps a relatively low profile. His political activity is undetectable. And it's hard to imagine him posing for a New York Times Magazine spread discussing his lavish lifestyle.


And so he's gotten away with much more than Shalala or Maidique ever could.

While the janitor strike lit up the campuses in Miami, Ferrero bided his time. He no doubt counted on janitor fatigue: ``Oh God, not that again.''

His gamble seems to have paid off -- 102 janitors are still locked out of the university.

And, thanks to the triumph of the 24-hour news cycle, public attention has moved on to the latest celebrity exploits.

Fortunately, not everyone in this town is in a moral coma.

Last week, the Broward County Commission, angry about the treatment of the Nova workers, said they might look into the financial support the county offers the university.

The Miami Herald's Amy Sherman reported that the county gives about $5 million a year to help run Nova's library.

If commissioners pull the money, the public might lose library access. But commissioners would get to make a point.

''The power of the purse string is a pretty powerful tool,'' Mayor Josephus Eggelletion Jr. said.

He's right. Ferrero may be beyond shame.

But one thing he does seem to care about is money.