Monthly Archives: March 2006

Ashe Fallout

Picketline blog has text and great pictures of Ashe Tuesday.

And Pres. Shalala has just sent out a message to the university community. If you don’t think about it too much it is a great piece of persuasive writing but contains a huge logical fallacy. And a bit of what I fear may be wishful thinking.

Let’s start with the (accurate) set-up

Basically, [the Ashe students] want the university to tell one of our contractors, UNICCO, to accept cards that the union, SEIU, has had UNICCO employees sign requesting union recognition. The union argues that collecting signatures as an indication of what the employees want is better and fairer than a secret, federal government (National Labor Relations Board) supervised vote. The contractor, UNICCO, has called for the secret ballot procedure supervised by the NLRB (it should be noted that recognizing a union on the basis of cards is optional under the law; recognizing a union under a secret ballot election is mandated by the law).

Now here’s the fallacious bit:

The students who sat in yesterday support the SEIU position. They wanted the university to share their view. They believe the NLRB process takes too long and is flawed. As I explained to them, we are neutral on the process – the union and the contractor need to work that out. However, when pushed on why we couldn’t just choose to support the card-signing system, I pointed out that the university simply could never take a position against a secret ballot procedure supervised by a federal government agency. Secret ballots are at the heart of our democratic system. In fact, many of the UNICCO employees in our community came to this country precisely because of our free (and secret ballot) elections.

I hope very much that this is just PR and not what Pres. Shalala actually believes. Because it’s odd.

There is no reason in the world why the University couldn’t if it chose take a position that a process run by the Bush administration has an anti-union bias. But leave that aside. Suppose both processes are in fact formally fair, but that they have different psychological biases: card-check provides a greater chance one-on-persuasion; ballot, which takes place at a defined time, allows the best chance for the employer to maximize its inducements and threats so that they are at their peak effectiveness at the moment of the vote. In that world, there are no “neutrals”.

But wait. It gets stranger. President Shalala thinks that there’s some magic “third way” heretofore unknown to labor lawyers, and that we here at UM are going to invent it:

I suggested last night that everyone sit down and see if they can find a third option that is free from intimidation. We need a fair democratic process for the employees of UNICCO to decide whether or not they want SEIU to represent them, free from intimidation or coercion from either side, or concern about their job stability. That discussion will begin Friday at noon.

As I’ve said before, labor law is way outside my areas of even minimal competence. But I do read the newspapers. And if there was a third way beside polling people asynchronously (card check) and polling people synchronously (ballot), identifying it would seem to me to be something of a feat.

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Too Horrible to Contemplate

The classroom applications of this device are simply too horrible to contemplate.

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Ashe Building Compromise

I just drove by the Ashe Building, and all is quiet. No crowd, no police cars, no media except for one Channel 7 truck with two slumped and sleeping figures in the front.

The Miami Herald reports in UM students end their protest, that

The protesters ended their sit-in having agreed with the administration on three issues:

• The university would put out a statement saying it would not tolerate intimidation or coercion of workers;

• The university would encourage Unicco and the union to reach an agreement over the labor dispute;

• The university would host a meeting within 48 hours involving the union, Unicco workers, faculty and student groups.

This isn’t exactly a statement of support for card-check elections, but it’s a better outcome than one might have feared given President Shalala’s record of stomping pretty hard on people who get in her way. It’s a tribute, I think, both to the maturity of the students for accepting half a loaf — for now — and to President Shalala’s savvy in being willing to tender any loaf at all. The late Bart Giammati, Yale’s President, whom I got to know pretty well during the year I covered him for the Yale Daily News, would not have been capable of this–angry confrontation of any sort put his back up and seemed to be the only thing that could shut down the reasoning powers of his formidable brain.

Picketline blog claims victory:

At about 1.30 am Farther Frank Corbishley and the students occupying the Admissions Department in Ashe came out of the building, unarrested, unexpelled and in good health. In return for their leaving, Donna Shalala released a statement to the Associated Press (we have not double-checked that) that within 48 hours there will be good faith talks to resolve the situation with the participation of the administration, the faculty, the law faculty, the students, UNICCO, the SEIU and the workers themselves. This will be the first time the workers’ voices will have been officially heard (not to mention the voices of some of the other parties).

This is an incredible step forward. The students were magnificent and this achievement is due to their courage and integrity. They were prepared to stay there for as long as necessary; they were prepared to get arrested and possibly expelled.

That might be a bit strong, but it’s still a good outcome.

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Another Hour at the Ashe Building

11:35 Shalala spotted — briefly goes into the room where the students are, remains for less than a minute, then goes out. But not back up this time. Is Elvis leaving the building? We all run out to the back to intercept her. The camera crews get excited. And she’s not there. Another false alarm? (Maybe Shalala is going to use one of the bathrooms she’s locked the students out of)

A UM student in the back of the backdoor crowd is complaining loudly: “Why did she agree to negotiate with them? She’s playing right into their hands.”

A cop goes in the back door holding a large white bag — carryout? Donuts? There are about a dozen cops on the sofas in the main lobby. The night shift cops lolling on couches look a lot more comfortable than the people outside the doors, many of whom are would-be SEIU members, who have already had a pretty long day. One of the cops has something that looks like an old-style movie camera.

11:45 The camera crews are having a shift change too. The new guy from channel 4 is sporting a red Bruce Lee t-shirt. How long will you stay, I ask. “As long as it takes, he says.” Easy duty; the weather is good tonight.

11:50 I fall in with a group of sociologists, faculty and former students. They’re well informed. From what they’ve heard, the first time Shalala met with the students, in addition to threatening to expel them, she also agreed to consider signing a letter endorsing a card-check election…if the union would agree to state that UM is not a ‘co-employer’. And the union drafted something, gave it to her… And we don’t know anything more…

11:55 back at the front: Shalala spotted again, entering the room, bearing a piece of paper, trailing two aides. Lots of shouting outside.

The cop with the big movie camera is filming from the open area into the room where the students are. I suppose it will be evidence if there are arrests and trials.

12:03 Father Frank is outside the room again, talking on his cell phone..

I meet the lawyer for SEIU, a charming young woman just down from NY. (A union man says that she’s here to make sure the local SEIU people do nothing more than observe.) She says she’s amazed and heartened by the outpouring of student support, including the law school — “people in my law school would never approve of the work I do.” What law school was that? U. Chicago.

12:20 One of the pastors has spoken to Father Frank, and to the cops. The cops are riled and want to go home, and have announced that if they have to arrest anyone they won’t release them on ‘promise to appear’ but will take them down to Turner-Guilford Knight, book them and lock them up. The kids inside are warned, but no more have come out. Negotiations are continuing, but about what exactly we don’t know.

It occurs to me that in a way Shalala is pretty lucky. Yes, this is a genuine student protest, and yes, potentially a black eye for a university President who promised a student-centered regime and made it her signature act to shake the hand of every graduate. It can’t be good to arrest your customers. But the very genuineness of this means that it’s amateur hour out here. Consider: there’s no one in charge. There’s no appointed outside spokesperson, no regular bulletins to hearten the crowd, no information about what’s going on or even what the demands are, no media strategy. They didn’t secure the bathrooms or bring much in the way of food and water.

12:28 Or is there? A student has just come out of the building, says she’s spoken with the students inside, and they want us to make a lot of noise and show our support. “They’re still strong, it isn’t over yet” . The crowd cheers loudly for about five minutes, then quietens down again. It could be a long night.

12:35 Some time while I wasn’t looking, Shalala went back upstairs. Frank is back inside. The dozen or so cops are chatting happily. We can see them, but we can’t see very much into the room where the students are holed up.

That’s all from me for this evening….And I still don’t know why Donna Shalala is afraid of Frank Corbishley.


Coverage elsewhere:
CBS4, Protest Supporting UM Janitors Now A Sit-In,
AP, Miami students support striking janitors with university sit-in,
Miami Herald, UM students stage sit-in at administration building in support of janitors (& longer version),
Picketline blog,
UNICCO brags it has 20 supporters.

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An Hour At the Ashe Building

When I arrive just after 10pm, there’s a crowd of about 75 or so at the back door of the Ashe building, about half look like members of the would-be bargaining unit, and the other half are students and other hangers-on (“I’m an outside agitator” the retiree I find standing next to me says).

There are more Coral Gables police cars here than I have ever seen in my life. Who knew they had 18 cars (including K9, a paddy wagon, and one labelled “Lieutanant”)

Apparently, just before I got here around ten pm a large number of cops entered the building to get the students out (“Shalala goes around the front to give a thumbs up,” the outside agitator says bitterly, “and they bring the paddy wagon ‘round the back”).

Rumors run rife: Shalala is coming back when the arrests start.

“We thought she’d wait until early in the morning” says another, “but I guess they want a show for the 11 o’clock news”.

There is press, and they’re prepared to wait, and the crowd consensus is that the university figured there was no point in delay. Arrests any minute.

But maybe not. Off to the side I find Lt. Paul Miyares, a bluff well-spoken man who is happy to speak for attribution. “The last thing we want to do is arrest anyone” he says. Why so many police? They’re just here, at the University’s request, to “monitor” things and make sure no one does anything they shouldn’t. Just like at any other demonstration. Why so many cops going in and out of the building? It’s just the night shift coming on to relieve the day shift. Why not tell the people milling around that you are not arresting anyone? But what if I have to later for some reason, he responds, “then the trust is gone.”

Some of the other cops are bit more cynical. For one thing, this comes on the heels of real policing–talking out the US 1 gunman without injuries to himself or others as they did earlier today. “Notice that there’s no one from the union risking arrest” says one hard case. “It takes real smarts to get arrested for someone else”. Some might call it altruism, but this uniformed (and unionized) gentlemen sees it as rich spoiled kids being irresponsible. What will mommy and daddy think, asks another.

***

Around at the front of the Ashe building there’s a lot of chanting going on (in Spanish). What do we want? JUSTICE. When do we want it? NOW.

There’s a tent pitched on the lawn for no obvious reason. Maybe supporters plan to sleep here, and are afraid of rain although none is forecast.

At the table where I’m writing this, undergrads are trying to do their homework. One student is obsessing — I can’t go home, what if they arrest my roommate, I have to be here to get her out of jail.

A guy doing his math explains why I can’t seem to get a wireless connection near the Ashe building — the administration turned off this part of the wireless cloud that covers the campus so that the students couldn’t communicate via Internet.

***

So it looks like a standoff.

Or does it? One of the chaplains outside the front says that the reporter from Telemundo told her that the cops have orders to arrest everyone as soon as Shalala leaves.

Donna Shalala? Yes, it seems UM’s President has come back in and is meeting with the remaining dozen or so students. And, judging by what we can see through the large glass doors, Father Frank has agreed to leave the room.

A young woman is passing out the lyrics to the star spangled banner urging everyone to get ready to sing it together .

***

11pm. Back to the back door. The cops swear up and down that they don’t have any instructions to arrest anyone. The Lieutenant has gone home. “It’s private property,” the cop in charge outside says. “The kids can stay as long as they like. Of course, if the University tells them to leave, and they refuse, then they are trespassing, and then they can be arrested.”

So we really don’t have any idea what’s going on. Shalala came in this way, her car is parked back here, will she address the folks out front before leaving or skulk out the back?

***

Over to the front again. They say they spotted Shalala leaving the ground floor room where the students are and going upstairs towards the President’s office. “She gave us a wave and a smile” a student says.

Not much to go on, is it?

+++

(Posted from Richter library)

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Ashe Building On-Scene Report

Shortly after posting the last update, I got an email from a unionization supporter reporting that

  • The students are still in the adminission office, with no A/C, no access to bathrooms, no water, little food.
  • there is a large crowd around the Ashe Building, supporing the students inside; there’s also police
  • UM President Donna Shalala offered to meet with the students, but only on condition that Father Frank wouldn’t be in the room. The students “didn’t like the sound of this,” and brought Father Frank with them to the meeting, so Shalala walked out on them almost immediately.
  • UNICCO has threatened to start firing people as soon as Thursday

What I’d like to know is why is Donna Shalala afraid of Father Frank Corbishley?

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Ashe Building Update

The latest I have heard is that there are about 20 persons inside the Ashe building, primarily students but also including Father Frank Corbishley. The administration is not letting them use the toilets, but they have brought kitty litter.

Here’s what I have on reliable authority: The UM Administration ordered reporters to leave the building at 5pm under threat of arrest. The students stayed. The police have been called, but as of last rumor no arrests had been made–yet. Instead, negotiations are under way.

Things were sort of on hold for a while because of an unrelated nearby incident in which a gunman barricaded himself in a house about a mile up US 1, causing all Southbound (returning commuter) traffic to be stopped at Douglas Raod, which resulted in a tie-up going back several miles to I-95.

I am told there was great coverage on CBS Channel 4, making this one of the rare times I am sorry I don’t have a TV. When I get back home, I’ll try pulling up the online video.

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