Wednesday, March 01, 2006

The strike of 2006

So the workers have gone on strike here. It's not noticeable at all. Apparently there is a picket line but I have no idea where it is, even though this FAQ from the school says what street it's on. Apparently some profs have cancelled classes already but I've only heard from Prof. Seminar.

The Orlando Sentinel has a good story about the strike in today's paper.

One of the odd things about this strike is that the services these workers provide won't get interrupted. I'm a little confused about how effective a strike can be if the work still gets done, although the pressure is clearly building on Shalala. Maybe she'll go escape the pressure by taking a ride in her 29-foot boat...

Oh, and the law school signed this statement, which was apparently crafted by faculty members:

We are heartened by President Shalala's decision to establish a working
group to study the compensation and benefits issues facing the many
contract employees who work on UM's campuses. If this initiative indeed
signals a genuine willingness on the Administration's part to rethink
longstanding policies that encourage outside firms to compete for UM's
contracts by paying poverty-level wages, then we applaud the change of
heart and thank the President for responding in such a constructive
manner to the many UM constituencies that have spoken up for the workers who
make life and learning on this campus possible.

But we would have to ignore a lot of history - some of it ancient, some
of it quite recent - not to sound a note of caution to those who think
the UNICCO workers' struggle for workplace justice is over. For one
thing, the target of the strike vote scheduled for this weekend is the
unfair labor practices alleged against UNICCO by the National Labor
Relations Board, which has charged the firm with unlawfully interrogating
workers about their union support; prohibiting them from talking about
the union at work; forcing them to sign a statement disavowing the union;
accusing them of "disloyalty" for participating in off-hours union
functions; threatening reprisals against union supporters; and conducting
unlawful surveillance of a union meeting. Moreover, as recently as this
week, UNICCO fired one of the leading union supporters after she spoke
about the union campaign to a reporter from the Orlando Sentinel, so
there is reason to believe that the antiunion campaign has escalated
rather than abated.

The President's statement offered no mention of either the NLRB's
proceedings against UN ICCO or the substance of any of these allegations,
let alone any suggestion that the University expects better from its
campus contractors. But if the charges against UNICCO are true - and the
agency of the federal government that is charged with protecting the
organizing rights of American workers has found reasonable cause to
believe that they are - the firm has engaged in a disgraceful campaign to
thwart its workers' organizing efforts. Should the employees vote to
strike to protest this conduct, we will support their effort in every way
we can that is consistent with our professional responsibilities to our
students and to the University, and we urge other members of the UM
community - faculty, students, administrators, and support staff - to do
so as well.

The University's own record on the issue of justice for campus contract
workers is equally troubling. The UM Administration has, after all,
been aware of the effects of its contracting policies at least since
August 2001, when the Chronicle of Higher Education reported - to the
mortification of virtually everyone in the UM community - that UM was the
second lowest in janitorial pay among 195 institutions of higher learning
and that we were one of only a dozen institutions that paid their
custodial workers below the official Federal Poverty Wage.

For those of us who participated in the ensuing effort to persuade the
University Administration to adopt a living wage policy, there is a
disturbing sense of déjà vu here. Responding to criticisms from faculty,
students, and other members of the University community, and to a spate
of unwelcome publicity, the President at that time undertook a
six-month study of compensation and benefits policies for contract workers. At
the end of that process, she announced the health awareness and
education initiatives outlined in yesterday's statement. That was obviously a
step in the right direction, though the SEIU reports that many workers
view those initiatives mostly as an opportunity to learn about
treatments they can't afford and in any event as no substitute for a wage and
benefit package that provides them with health care rather than merely
health fairs. (We suspect that the larger South Florida community -
whose taxes and charitable contributions are currently covering the lion's
share of the health care costs of such low-wage workers - would readily
agree.) In any event, the President also announced that the University
would continue to adhere to its "market-based" approach to pay for
contract workers, meaning that outside firms could continue to compete for
UM contracts by paying poverty-level wages, as indeed they have.
Nothing was done about those embarrassing pay levels in 2001; in 2002; in
2003; in 2004; in 2005; or indeed in 2006, until three days before the
scheduled strike vote.

The timing of the working group initiative thus speaks, loudly, for
itself. In the eloquent words of Supreme Court Justice John Marshall
Harlan, "[t]he beneficence of an employer is likely to be ephemeral if
prompted by a threat of unionization which is subsequently removed." The
same is surely true of beneficence that is also prompted by a community
outcry in support of its workers' protests, and so we urge all members
of that community to continue the outcry until the Administration
commits itself to a living wage policy for all workers - UM as well as
contract employees - who serve this University.

We would have more confidence in the likely results of this second
round of study and consultation if the working group the President
established had broader representation from the University community and in
particular from student and faculty groups that have been critical of the
contracting policies that the President is now willing to reconsider.
And we would have more confidence still if those most directly affected
had a voice in the decisionmaking process. Indeed, a voice in the
process is exactly what the UNICCO workers are seeking through their
unionization effort, and it's exactly what UNICCO has evidently attempted to
thwart through a continuing campaign of unfair labor practices. We
stand with those workers in support of their efforts to secure "a place at
the table" when decisions are made about their working lives, and we
urge other members of the University community to stand with them as


At 12:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It is wonderful on campus today. It's quiet, there is ample parking, and the bathrooms are cleaner than usual. I have not seen any indication whatsoever that there is a strike, including on my drive to campus. This might be the worst strike ever.

What irks me the most about it though, is that (to my knowledge) none of the professors who support the strike have offered to take even a 5% pay cut to cover the cost of health insurance and better wages for UNICCO workers. They seem to have no problem if UM raises tuition to cover these costs, even though Miami students have some of the highest debt in the nation (I forget the source, but this was recently in the news). After all though, the legal education at Miami is still an excellent value according to the Dean... whoever he is.

At 4:02 PM, Blogger Bricklayer said...

Professors take a paycut? How bourgeois, you capitalist scum. Clearly the students must pay, the students and their nuveau riche parents. So you'll just take out more in student loans, comerade.

You were smart to post anonymously. When the union organizers find out you're not a "friend of ours" they might make you an offer you can't refuse, capiche?

At 4:05 PM, Blogger Bricklayer said...

Oh sorry, did I forget to mention that I'm opposed to the strike and no way no how does the SBA speak for a majority of us?

At 7:16 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I also hope the professors win a pay cut. It seems foolish to talk about a "living wage" without even mentioning how much strikers are being paid in the first place. If they gave you any details, people might say "well, that's not so bad."

I'm just angry over all the times they rammed a lawn mover into my car.

At 8:32 PM, Blogger Bricklayer said...

They would all have higher wages if our nation got serious about halting illegal immigration.

Lets call a spade a spade. The fact of the matter is that in South Florida a huge percentage of janitorial/landscaping work is performed by illegal aliens for less than minimum wage. That said, the workers in this case are in no position to demand benefits.

Our nation needs to pick its poison. I'm not going to pay taxes and tuition so that we have both illegal immigration and a socialist state for all comers.


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