Tuesday, August 24, 2010

UM Janitors Reengage the Struggle

By Annie Fox

Four years ago at the University of Miami janitors, landscapers, and others, all poor, mostly immigrants, decided they'd had enough. They took on their contract employer, UNICCO, and by extension, the University itself, the largest private employer in Miami-Dade County, FL, demanding their right to organize, their right to respect, and their right to a living wage. They struggled for months, with a strike, rallies and marches, a hunger strike and more. On May Day of that year, these dedicated workers, with their student, faculty, and community allies, made history, when UNICCO agreed to recognize their union.

These same workers once again face a struggle, this time for fair contract negotiations. The union proposal contains such terms as a four-year duration for the agreement, a $0.75/hour raise in each of those years, the use of seniority to decide among qualified bidders for posted jobs, and a safe working environment, including 30-minute breaks for landscapers when the temperature is 100 degrees or more and solutions for people working alone in buildings at night. Such proposals are patently reasonable, frankly modest. Yet the company proposal for these same items is no, no, no, no and no.

Saturday, 300+ janitors and landscapers, members of SEIU local 32BJ, and their supporters rallied for justice at the Bede Episcopal Chapel on the edge of the UM Campus. Florida State Representative Luis Garcia reminded all that everything workers have won, has been won by people just like those now up against this university administration, workers who came together in unions to fight for their rights. S.T.A.N.D. (Students toward a New Democracy) was recognized for its key role four years ago, a role today's new students are taking up with dedication and gusto.

Josette Acador, an SEIU member working for the "Sunshine" company at the Ft. Lauderdale Airport, came to the rally before work—a county away—to pledge support. To resounding cries of "Si! Se puede!" the crowd powerfully rejected the company's paltry, stingy proposal, before enthusiastically authorizing their negotiating team to call a strike, if necessary. The crowd then poured out of the Chapel to march out along the campus border, to be met by honking horns and thumbs up by locals and parents moving their sons and daughters into the dorms. What an orientation for students arriving to begin the fall term!

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