UNIVERSITY OF MIAMI FILES CHARGES AGAINST SEIU AS JANITORS STRIKE CONTINUES-Andrew Stelzer

04/13/06

Janitors at the University of Miami are now in the 7th week of their strike. Despite getting a 25 percent pay raise last month, the janitors still want to use a card check election to vote on becoming unionized, but UNICCO, the Boston based contractor which employs them, will only honor a secret ballot election, a method which has been found to be more subject to anti-union harassment and threats to employees. In the past week, more than a dozen janitors and their students’ supporters have gone on hunger strike, and now the University announced it will be filing unfair labor practice charges with the National Labor Relations Board. Meanwhile, janitors at nearby NOVA southeastern University have began a work slow down of their own. WMNFs Andrew Stelzer has the story.

2 meetings in 5 days proved unsuccessful in resolving differences between the janitors and UNICCO, and last week, 10 janitors, including Clara Vargas, who has cleaned a dorm for the past 4 and a half years for 7 dollars an hour, went on hunger strike.

ACT-Clara Vargas “UNICCO was never open about the Union. They always spoke badly about the union to the workers. They said to some workers, if you want to get in the union I will lay you off. But this time the workers are saying our signature it’s our vote.� END ACT

3 of the 10 janitors have had to be hospitalized with high blood pressure that put them at risk for a stroke, The remaining 7 are in their 9th day, and they’ve been joined by 7 students in solidarity. Jacob-Coker Dukowitz, with Students towards a new Democracy, a group supporting the janitors, says that while no one has been arrested, the University has taken a more aggressive stance.

ACT-Jacob “There was forceful removal of workers from classroom..workers came on with a wheelchair, signs saying I lost 18 pounds..they were forcefully removed..�

But perhaps the most aggressive move of all is the filing of unfair labor practice charges with the National Labor Relations Board by the University. Jerry Lewis is the vice President of Communications for the University of Miami.

ACT-Lewis “Were saying the SEIU is in violation of the national labor relations act, picketing, confrontational handbilling..Coming on private property..�

Lewis says the charges go back 7 weeks, and have 10 or 11 points in them. A press statement issue by U of M said that charges will be filed against SEIU organizers and their supporters. Lewis says he doesn’t know who those supporters would be. Dukowitz from STAND says that grouping students, clergy and other non-profit groups in the complaint is unfair and inaccurate.

ACT-Jacob “there were charges filed that said SEIU that said anyone who came on campus are agents of the union…, but people from ACORN, STAND have sided with workers, not SEIU, and so this is to avoid bad press ..’

The Workers have filed several complaints of their own with the NLRB, claiming they had been harassed and threatened not to join the union, and one worker was fired for organizing the janitors. Meanwhile, 45 miles away at NOVA southeastern University, janitors at that school who are also employed By UNICCO, staged a staggered work stoppage over the first 3 days of this week, calling for higher wages, medical benefits and the right to organize a union. Dave Dawson, spokesman for Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale, says the walkout ended Wednesday, and that it was organized by the SEIU as well.

ACT-Dawson “There was an out of town union that came to our campus that organized and tried to solicit people for a strike, for a time we had some absenteeism, as of today everyone is back, no pickets, no union demonstrators, and the ones we saw were from other locations..�

The average pay for custodial staff at Nova is $7.25 an hour, while Broward County's living-wage is $11.48 an hour. Despite this discrepancy, and the janitors’ call for higher wages, NOVA spokesman Dawson says he believes the schools janitorial and groundskeepers are being fairly compensated.

ACT-Dawson “The marketplace determines, and that would be a fair wage for certain jobs. Wed all like people to pay 12 dollars an hour, but when you snuck out of the newsroom, its would be 7 bucks. Something has to give, we’ve been told by UNICCO that this is a fair market wage, and comparable to other universities, that’s what we’ve been told.�

Dawson says how and contract employees choose to form a union is their decision and the university wont interfere. He also takes a similar line to the one the University of Miami has stuck to in public statements, claiming that since the janitors are employed by UNICCO the pay raise is in their hands. Although the janitors point to the pay raise granted by the University of Miami as proof that they can intervene, spokesman Jerry Lewis holds to the so-called “neutral stance.�

ACT-Lewis “Determining wages and healthcare is something we could do, and that’s something we did. In terms of a union contract and how they would vote, we cant get involved in that, we can be union busted.�

Dukowitz says that the charges filed by the University of Miami are another example of their taking a side in the issue.

ACT-Jacob “Originally the university said we have nothing to do with this, then said neutral, now playing an active role in an attempt to silence worker efforts..So you’ve seen a turn around in trying to silence freedom of speech.�

University of Miami Spokesman Jerry Lewis denies the charges of censorship.

ACT-Lewis “We aren’t squelching free speech, we’ve had demonstrations, it would be unfair to say that..people have trespassed, we’ve allowed it�

For more information about the janitors strike at The University of Miami, log onto www.standum.org

For WMNF news, I’m Andrew Stelzer

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