UNIVERSITY OF MIAMI JANITORS GO ON STRIKE-Andrew Stelzer

03/02/06

After months of preparation Janitors at the University of Miami have gone on strike, calling for a living wage and health insurance, as well as a right to organize a union. WMNFs Andrew Stelzer has the story.

ACT-Asher “They don’t hear enough to have a place to live or go to the doctor..

Renee Asher, spokeswoman for the Service employees international Union, says that about half of the 200 janitors at the University of Miami’s Coral Cables campus went on strike this morning; they are all employed through a subcontract with the Boston based company, UNICCO services corporation.

ACT-Asher “UNICCO pays other worker sin other city more, why not Miami.?�

The janitors are paid an average of 7.52 an hour, almost 4 dollars below the living wage for Miami Dade County. They are demanding a living wage and health benefit, and SEIU has been trying to unionize the workers for almost a year. The workers voted to strike on Sunday. Labor law allows non-unionized workers to strike over unfair labor practices. Jakob Coker-Dukowitz is a spokesperson for students towards a new democracy; abbreviated STAND, a group which has been pressuring the University to improve pay and benefits for the janitors—they are using a similar campaign that students at Harvard university employed to get raises for janitors on that campus.

ACT-Jacob “University of Miami is the second lowest institutions..we were�

Dukowitz says some students are refusing to attend classes, and the striking janitors also are getting support from the university faculty.

ACT-Jacob “about 50 faculty are holding faculty off campus..Shalala…�

Asher says the University holds the purse strings. But the strike is against UNICCO, because of their resistance to unionization attempts. The national labor relations’ board has accused UNICCO interrogating workers and threatening reprisals for their union support. Although it took place after the vote to strike, the workers are now protesting the firing of a leading organizer, Zoila Mursuli. Mursuli was fired after being accused of opening a door at her work site to an unauthorized person, who was a reporter for the Orlando Sentinel. But the Sentinal reports that the reporter interviewed her at a convenience store before her shift, and that walked into an open law school building on her own to take the janitors picture. But although the strike is against UNICCO, Asher says its the University who has the power to change the contract with the subcontractor to stipulate a living wage, which UNICCO has done at some of the 150 contracts it holds with schools across the country.

ACT-Asher “what university presidents have said elsewhere is to say we want living wage…even if UNICCO said fine we will form a union..�

Coker Dukowitz says many students are upset that as University President, Shalala has not embraced the concept of universal healthcare she promoted as Presidents Clintons Secretary of Health and Human Services.

ACT-Jacob “the faculty senate made a resolution to not contribute to the working poor, we couldn’t agree more…’

Dukowitz says he met with Shalala, but nothing came of the meeting. He’s been told to meet with the board of trustees, but that meeting has yet to materialize. In response to the growing protests, last week the University created a work group to study compensation and benefits for employees of outside contractors-that group is due to report back to Shalala in 25 days. Requests for comment from that workgroup were not returned. Dokowitz says the group is a tactic of evasion.

ACT-Jacob “the public support has reached a level that the need to respond…we applaud her, she has had 5 years, there was already a committee..�

200 UNICCO janitors work at the Coral Gables campus, another 200 who work at the medical campus, have filed a 10-day notice that they may walk off the job as well. Asher says the campaign may go in several different directions.

ACT--Asher “we have filed 10 day strike notice at the medical center campus, workers in other cities, they may go to other states..we could take this on the road to Connecticut�

Dukowitz says he expects at least 200 students, plus faculty janitors and other supporters to attend a march on Friday in support of the striking janitors, and he believes the campaign itself has had a positive effect on the campus.

ACT-Jacob “UM is now an activist campus, this march will have the most people since the 60s, students are becoming more aware and calling upon people to change their roles..�

To learn more about the janitors demands and strike, log onto www.standum.org

For WMNF news, I’m Andrew Stelzer

comments powered by Disqus