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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