Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Story from today's Herald on the contract.

University of Miami janitors avoid a strike

The University of Miami's janitors threatened to strike again, but agreed to a new contract at the last minute.

   University of Miami janitors are demanding a cost-of-living pay increase or they will strike. Here, Hector Riera cleans glass doors on campus on Tuesday, August 31, 2010.
University of Miami janitors are demanding a cost-of-living pay increase or they will strike. Here, Hector Riera cleans glass doors on campus on Tuesday, August 31, 2010.

Averting another strike at the last minute, janitors and landscapers at the University of Miami struck a new labor contract Tuesday night that provides for cost-of-living increases while improving employee benefits such as sick days and vacation time.

At around 9 p.m. Tuesday, the eve of a potential janitor's strike, the Service Employees International Union, which represents the workers, agreed to terms with university contractor UGL Unicco Services.

The tentative three-year agreement, which still must be ratified by the workers themselves, provides a 7.5 percent wage increase over the next three years to UM's nearly 400 janitors and landscapers. The deal also improves benefits, including sick days and holidays, and increases employer contributions to the healthcare fund up to 23 percent.

For UM President Donna Shalala and other school administrators, the agreement also neutralizes an issue that has proven quite controversial in the past. In 2006, prior to forming a union, UM's cleanup workers created a national media storm by protesting their low wages and lack of health insurance through a months-long labor strike that also grew to include hunger strikes.

Earlier this week, as the expiration of the janitors' current contract grew closer, it appeared another clash over wages was imminent. On Monday, dozens of UM students and faculty participated in a rally in support of the janitors, concluding with a letter being delivered to Shalala's office.

``Students are really responsive because they have heard about this issue before,'' said UM senior Stephanie Sandhu, who participated in the rally.

Shalala played a crucial role in securing higher wages and health insurance for the workers in 2006, although for five straight years before that, she took a more hands-off approach. UM has long prided itself on the cleanliness and beauty of its lushly-landscaped Coral Gables campus.


Technically speaking, the janitors don't work for UM, they work for Unicco -- a murky arrangement that leads to disparities such as janitors earning less vacation time than is given to actual UM employees. Janitors earn two weeks of paid vacation after five years' employment, for example, while UM employees only have to put in two years to receive that perk.

As part of their demands, the janitors sought the same vacation schedule as official UM employees. They didn't achieve that, but they did make substantial gains -- qualifying for three weeks vacation after eight years instead of 10, and gaining Martin Luther King Jr. day as an additional paid holiday. Personal days were increased from three to four.

One thing workers asked for and didn't get: a 30-minute break when working outside in temperatures above 100 degrees.

Though UM doesn't directly pay its janitors, pressure from the university can significantly affect Unicco's posture in negotiating with its workers.

Publicly at least, Shalala showed no interest in wading into the thorny issue for a second time. The letter delivered to her office this week asked for a presidential statement in support of the janitors' cause, but no such statement has been made. Nor did Shalala respond to a Miami Herald request for comment relayed through a university spokeswoman.


The janitors' strike four years ago sparked a torrent of negative media coverage for UM, as media outlets across the country were drawn to the issue -- in part because Shalala, a former U.S. secretary of health and human services, is a national figure.

Though Shalala was repeatedly blamed for not doing more -- sooner -- to help the janitors, union organizers were also faulted during the months-long standoff.

The union praised this latest agreement as ``an important victory for our members and for all the working families of Miami.''

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Contract agreed on - strike averted!

Great news! The UM janitors and groundskeepers have agreed on a contract with UNICCO. No strike. Here's the press release from SEIU:


– New Contract Averts Strike at UM Campus and Hospital –

Coral Gables, FL—Nearly 400 cleaners and landscapers at the University of Miami reached a tentative three-year agreement this evening that provides 7.5% in wage increases over the next three years, maintains employer-paid health care coverage and improves sick days and vacation time.

“In a tough economic environment the workers who keep UM clean and beautiful are moving closer to the middle class, securing benefits and gaining wage increases that will help our community prosper,” said Eric Brakken, Director of 32BJ SEIU Florida. “The contract is an important victory for our members and for all the working families of Miami.”

The three-year agreement between 32BJ and UNICCO improves benefits, including sick days, holidays and increases employer contributions to the health care fund up to 23%.

“I am happy for this agreement,” said Clara Vargas, who has been working at UM for more than 8 years. “Now I can continue helping my son finish his studies and put food on the table.”

The deal was reached at 9:00 PM between the Boston based contractor UNICCO and 32BJ SEIU and will be presented to the workers for ratification.

Cleaners and landscapers gained wage increases and improved benefits in their second union contract, the first one was ratified in the spring of 2006 after a nine-week strike because of unfair labor practices, substandard pay, lack of health benefits and workplace safety issues. The strike ended with recognition of the workers’ union, which ultimately led to a union contract that increased wages and provided health care and other benefits.

With more than 120,000 members, including cleaners, landscapers, security officers and laundry workers in South Florida, 32BJ is the largest property service workers union in the country.

UM students rally as janitors prepare to strike over wages

From the New Times, by Tom Elfrink:

Four years ago, the 400 janitors who keep the University of Miami's campus clean went on a lengthy hunger strike and inspired two months of student protests in a fierce battle to earn a fair living wage. Looks like round two might be right around the corner.

The janitors are poised to strike again unless a last-minute deal is struck tomorrow over a cost-of-living increase. Meanwhile, dozens of students and faculty are protesting in support outside the student center this afternoon. "We just want a better life for our families," Maria Isabel Angel, a 57-year-old cleaner, tells Riptide.

In 2006, the janitors voted to join the Service Employees International Union and then went on strike when Unicco -- the contractor employed by the university -- refused to meet their demands for a wage increase and health benefits.

Everyone from pre-scandalicious John Edwards to national Teamsters presidents came to UM to support the janitors, who eventually won 25 percent raises and benefits and were allowed to elect their own union reps.

That contract expires tomorrow, and Unicco and the janitors are again at odds.

Eugenio Villasante, a spokesman for SEIU, declined to discuss the exact terms the cleaners are seeking. But he says Miami has seen an 8.2 percent cost-of-living increase since the last contract was negotiated and that workers expect their health benefits to continue.

The university declined to discuss the ongoing negotiations, releasing instead a brief statement: "The University of Miami is aware that contract negotiations have begun between UNICCO and SEIU. The University has every confidence that the parties involved will reach a successful resolution."

Angel, who cleans the eighth floor of a medical research center, says she's supporting an unemployed husband and helping her son pay for college. She earns $9.05 an hour and says she can't keep up with her bills.

"We're trying to get this increase because the cost of living is very expensive in Miami," she says. "We'd like to have a better salary for a better life."

A group of students and faculty planned to gather at lunchtime today to support the janitors and then deliver a letter to Donna Shalala, the university president, says Stephanie Sandhu, one of the student organizers. "As inflation goes up, you have to have an increase or you'll be left at a poverty level," she says.

The two sides will meet again tomorrow morning, Villasante says. If no one budges, the strike could begin soon thereafter.

Yesterday's rally: smile, you're on TV

Story with short TV clip on yesterday's rally at the Rock.

Text of letter to President Shalala signed by students and faculty

August 30th, 2010

President Donna Shalala:

We really appreciate your leadership moving the University of Miami forwards to becoming an “Ivy of the South”. As students, we have really enjoyed our university experience, and we are especially proud of your decisions to support the janitors and landscapers who maintain our campus. As students embarking to make a positive impact, we recognize our own histories of working class citizens in the United States. We would like to continue to provide the same opportunities to the workers of today that our own ancestors strove for when they entered the country: to have a living wage above the poverty line. We know you agree that citizens who are able to manage his or her basic necessities can focus on other important endeavors: preparing for times of crisis, spending time with family, and accumulating personal and financial resources to provide for the education of further generations. It is this window of opportunity that we wish to keep open, the same window that our forefathers (and mothers!) diligently strove to climb through.

The UM Janitor and Landscaping worker’s current contract with UNICCO will expire on August 31st, 2010 and we as students are concerned. The initial contract proposal put forth by UNICCO completely ignores the basic requests of these hardworking employees and does not account for the increasing cost of living in Miami. We appreciate the efforts UNICCO workers put into maintaining our beautiful campus all year long and we firmly support the workers as they attempt to negotiate a fair contract. Considering you have a strong history of supporting the students and employees of the University of Miami, we expect you do as well. We are asking you to please publicly and vocally support the worker’s basic requests. Not only would the workers and students greatly appreciate your support, but you influence would have a tremendous impact. We thank you very much for your time.


University of Miami Students and Faculty

Monday, August 30, 2010

Report on today's rally

Today, Monday August 30th, S.T.A.N.D. (Students Towards a New Democracy) organized a rally on the UM campus in support of janitors and groundskeepers whose contract expires tomorrow. Currently, the workers' attempts to get a small raise, not to fall below the poverty line, and to achieve a few safety measures, are being rebuffed by UNICCO, the subcontractor who employs them.

The rally, attended by about a hundred students, workers and faculty, began at noon today and included impassioned speeches from a number of workers about their desire for a living wage and safe working conditions.

Then, a large delegation of students, workers and faculty went to deliver a letter to President Shalala, asking for her help on behalf of the workers.

We found access to the Ashe building being controlled by police!

At first we were told that we would not be allowed in to deliver the letter. Finally, it was agreed that the students, but not the workers or faculty, could deliver the letter to President Shalala while the rest of us waited outside.

The letter was delivered, and the delegation returned to thunderous applause!

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Rally for the UM workers on Monday August 30th

A message from STAND (Students Towards a New Democracy):

History shows UM administrators will support the UM Janitor and Landscaping workers if the Students and Faculty speak up! -The last day of contract negotiations is this Tuesday, and the workers are planning to go on strike if their basic requests aren't met - Let's show enough campus support on Monday at 12pm (the Rock) for the workers so contract negotiations start going better! - Please tell your students and other faculty

Join University of Miami Janitor and Landscaping Workers for a Speak Out and Letter Delivery

We don’t want wages below the poverty line on our campus!

Monday, August 30th 12:00 am

The Rock (Across from UM's UC Bookstore)

We will speak out in appreciation of our Janitor and Landscaping Workers and hear from the workers firsthand why a good contract is so important for them to survive. The initially offered contract froze the pay/benefits of these hardworking employees when the cost of food, housing, and everyday items in Miami is up more than 9% since the last contract was negotiated. Use your UM Voice and hold our administration accountable! We will be delivering a Letter to Donna Shalala asking her to support the workers requests afterward. (Cost of Living Wage increase, safety regulations, the same vacation days as faculty/staff, Health benefits, Job Seniority) University of Miami students, faculty and workers fought hard to win the living wage four years ago, let’s make sure it is here to stay!

For more information contact:

UM faculty member talks to a UM janitor

(From Giovanna Pompele:)

UM janitor i am not familiar with sees me wearing SEIU purple bracelet and brightens up. in entirely ridiculous spanish i say, "i'm with you in this!" in perfect english, janitor replies, "thank you."

she comes to me looking crestfallen. she says, "they are taking away seniority. do you know what that means? that they can do anything they want with us. i've been working here for 23 years."

she says, "i'm sick and HIV positive, but they won't let me take sick leave even with a doctor's note. they force me to take family leave."

she says, "look at all these students. if they understood, if they spoke up, things would change very rapidly."

she says, "they always take money away from the most poor."

Update from SEIU on contract negotiations

SEIU spokesperson informs that talks between the union and UNICCO over a new contract for UM janitors and groundskeepers are over for the week, but the parties are still far apart on wages and time off.

Workers will be leafleting at Stanford and US1 to let folks know that with living in Miami on a starting wage of $9.05 is becoming harder and harder.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Blocked ad

Here is the text of an ad that was rejected (by the Board of Student Publications, not by the editorial staff of the Hurricane) for publication in the Hurricane, the student newspaper at UM:

We are nearly 400 cleaners and landscapers who keep the campus of UM clean and comfortable for students and faculty. We work hard every day but many of us can barely make it on $9.05 an hour.

We have been negotiating a new contract with the company UNICCO, but their wages freeze proposal is unacceptable. Food, rent, childcare… all are on the rise and our wages should rise too. Our proposal is fair and affordable and would help us to provide for our families.

We want to keep serving the campus but if left with no other option we may have to stop working as soon as September 1st. A strike would be hard for all, workers and students alike. We hope you understand if we have to stop working to protect our families and our future.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Proposals and counter-proposals

Here is a summary of the proposals by the UM janitors and groundskeepers and the responses to them from UNICCO. Click on image to enlarge.

Today, at the Episcopal Church.....

UM workers vote to authorize the bargaining committee to strike!

Deja Vu All Over Again: Four Years On.

Four years ago, workers janitors and grounds-keepers at the University of Miami, employed by the subcontractor UNICCO, went on strike to be allowed to form a union. After a long hunger strike, and with the support of students, faculty, clergy and local politicians, UNICCO agreed to recognize their membership in the SEIU. A four-year contract, with a living wage and a number of improvements in working conditions, was negotiated.

That was four years ago. Now the contract is up for renegotiation. The bargaining team for the workers have made a number of proposals for the new contract which have been rejected out of hand by UNICCO. Among these proposals are: 1) a new four-year contract; 2) a very modest 75c per hour wage increase to help offset the 9% increase in the cost of living in the last four years; 3) improved safety for workers at night; and 4) mandated rest periods for grounds-keepers when the temperature is above 100F. A further post will reproduce a more extensive list of the proposals.

Today, at the Venerable Bede Episcopal Church, the workers rallied and voted to authorize the bargaining team to call for a strike if a new contract is not agreed on by September 1st.

The strike four years ago was a harrowing experience for all concerned: the workers, students, faculty, and administrators. It is our fervent hope that another strike will not be necessary. But we are reviving this blog to provide information of developments and support for the workers. Should a contract be renegotiated successfully in the next couple of weeks, we will gladly lapse into quiescence again.

Watch this space!

Si se puede!

Story of today's vote on CBS

"Cleanup and landscape crews OK to strike" CBS 4 TV

SEIU Press Release concerning Contract Renegotiations at UM


Thursday, August 5, 2010


– 4 Years Ago Workers Won First Union Contract after a 9-Week Strike –

Miami Beach, FL—Contract talks between the cleaners and groundskeepers at the University of Miami and the Boston based UNICCO remained far apart today as the cleaning contractor put forth unfair and unacceptable freezes on wages, health care, and other benefits that the nearly 400 workers and their families rely on to make ends meet.

“The cleaners and landscapers who keep the University of Miami clean cannot accept a wage freeze when the cost of living in Miami keeps going up,” said Eric Brakken, Florida Director of 32BJ. “We must make sure that working people can live in the city where they work.”

In the four years since the last contract, the consumer price index in the Miami-Ft. Lauderdale area jumped an 8.2 percent. The cost of housing, food and other everyday items is up more than 9 percent.

“We need these raises to be able to live in this expensive city,” says Guido Fluriel, a cleaner who works at the Sylvester Cancer Center at the University of Miami. “Times are tough and the cost of living is still going up.”

The bargaining committee, represented by 32BJ SEIU, is looking for fair wage increases, maintained health care coverage and more paid sick days in the new contract. Under the current contract, the workers receive employer-paid health care, and the starting wages for cleaners are $9.05 an hour, but despite the increasing cost of living in Miami, UNICCO’s proposal offered an across the board wages and benefits freeze.

In the spring of 2006, cleaners at the University of Miami held a nine-week strike because of substandard pay, lack of health benefits and workplace safety issues. The strike ended with recognition of the workers’ union, which ultimately led to a union contract that increased wages and provided health care and other benefits.

With more than 120,000 members in eight states and Washington, D.C., including South Florida, 32BJ is the largest property services union in the country.

Press links concerning the UM janitors contract renogiation (2010)

  • "UM janitors avoid a strike" Miami Herald 9/1/10
  • "Faculty, students rally for UM workers" WSVN TV 8/31/10
  • "UM students rally as janitors prepare to strike over wages" New Times 8/30/10
  • "S.T.A.N.D. and RAK speak out" Miami Hurricane 8/29/10
  • "UM workers reengage the struggle" Political Affairs 8/24/10
  • "Workers authorize strike against UNICCO" Miami Hurricane 8/23/10
  • "UM employees to negotiate contract" WSVN TV 8/23/10
  • "University of Miami cleaners, landscapers vote in favor of strike" Miami Herald 8/22/10
  • "University of Miami cleaners and landscapers will strike if demands aren't met" 8/22/10
  • "UM cleaners, landscapers authorize strike" Miami Herald 8/21/10
  • Miami Herald Announces the Rally of Aug 21st

    Here's a link the Miami Herald story in advance of today's rally.

    Thursday, April 01, 2010

    Press links concerning the UM janitors strike (2006)

  • "Shalala says UM will not demand union election" CBS 4 TV 4/23/06
  • "Janitors end hunger strike at UM - protest continues" CBS 4 TV 4/22/06
  • "SEIU president Andy Stern to join hunger strikers in Miami" Alternet 4/21/06
  • "Strike at U. Miami raises local concerns" The Dartmouth 4/21/06
  • "Surprise" Miami Sun Post 4/20/06
  • "Let workers decide" Sun Sentinel 4/19/06
  • "UM student hunger strike hits eighth day" CBS 4 TV 4/19/06
  • "Let poor workers unionize to attain American Dream" Miami Herald 4/18/06
  • "Anger Rises on Both Sides of Strike at UM" New York Times 4/18/06
  • "Union leader finds the spotlight" Miami Herald 4/16/06
  • "Hunger Strike at UM Enters Second Week" Coral Gables Gazette 4/15/06
  • "Ex-Aide to Clinton at Center of Labor Dispute" New York Sun 4/14/06
  • "Who's Really Caught Between a Rock and a Hard Place" Yahoo 4/14/06
  • "Students join in UM workers' hunger strike" NBC6 4/12/06
  • "Two Workers Hospitalized During Hunger Strike at UM" NBC6 4/10/06
  • "UM janitors promise hunger strike" CBS 4 TV 4/4/06

  • "Protesters occupy UM building" Miami Sun Post 3/30/06

  • "Janitors, students force U of Miami to talk" People's Weekly World 3/30/06

  • "Striking UM janitors invisible no longer" Miami Herald 3/29/06

  • "Students End UM Sit-In Supporting Janitors' Strike" CBS 4 TV 3/29/06

  • "UM students state sit-in to support school's janitors" Miami Herald 3/28/06

  • "Miami students support striking janitors with university sit-in" AP 3/28/06

  • "Nova enters janitor pay controversy" Miami Herald 3/22/06

  • "UM janitors agreement sets positive precedent" CBS 4 TV 3/21/06

  • "Shalala took the first step; who will follow?" Miami Herald 3/18/06

  • "UM's low-wage workers to get pay raises, benefits" Orlando Sentinel 3/18/06

  • "UM: Janitors to receive pay raise" The South Florida Business Journal 3/17/06

  • "Striking workers at UM to get raise" Miami Herald 3/17/06

  • Interview on Democracy Now 3/16/06

  • "UM janitors on strike take message to Star Island" NBC 3/16/06

  • "Strike is ill-advised, disruptive, just plain wrong" Miami Herald 3/15/06

  • "Strike is about hope for healthcare and better pay" Miami Herald 3/15/06

  • "Union gives $500,000 to striking UM janitors" Miami Herald 3/13/06

  • "UM considers meeting over janitors strike" Miami Herald 3/11/06

  • "Healthcare concerns need new focus: UM" Miami Herald 3/11/06

  • "Shalala to push for Haiti's health" Miami Herald 3/11/06

  • "Union delays expanding UM strike to Miami International Airport" Miami Herald 3/9/06

  • "Workers Protest at Univ. of Miami" The Harvard Crimson 3/8/06

  • "Priest Offers to Mediate UM Strike" Miami Herald 3/6/06

  • "UM Students/ Faculty March with Striking UNICCO Workers to Protest Unfair Labor Practices" Indymedia 3/5/06 (with video of march)

  • "Support Growing for Striking UM Janitors" CBS 4 TV News 3/5/06

  • "A Growing Force in Shalala's Home Garden" Miami Herald 3/4/06

  • "UM Janitors' Strike Turns Park into Classroom" Miami Herald 3/3/06

  • "Campus Janitors Go on Strike" The Ledger 3/2/06

  • "While Shalala Lives in Luxury, Janitors Struggle" Miami Herald 3/1/06

  • "For Donna Shalala, Nice Digs, Lousy Timing" Washington Post 2/22/06 (scroll to 2nd story on page)