Response Launched to UM Response to Strikers

My colleague Michael Fischl forwarded me a statement “signed by a rapidly growing number of faculty and students in response to the ‘Statement Regarding Possible Strike’ distributed to the University community via email.” He writes that people wanting to sign it are should send a message to that effect to worker_justice_um@yahoo.com.

Here’s the text of the statement:

On behalf of the more than 100 faculty members, undergraduates, and graduate students who are supporting the UNICCO workers in their strike to protest the escalating campaign of unfair labor practices against them, we express our outrage at the “Statement Regarding Possible Strike” issued by the University last night.

While reiterating the University’s ostensible commitment to freedom of expression, the statement indicates that the striking UNICCO workers will be forced to establish their picket line in a corner of campus that is virtually invisible to the academic community.

We find this attempt to treat the strikers as second-class citizens – by relegating their protest to “the back of the bus” – outrageous and unacceptable. The suppression of the UNICCO workers’ right to speak out against their employer’s unlawful actions in full view of the entire UM community violates the values of democracy and freedom we, as instructors at the University of Miami, hold most dear, and which constitute the very core of our teaching practices and commitments.

Sad to say, though, we view the University’s action here as yet another violation of the public pledge to remain “neutral” during the union campaign.

* It is not “neutral” for President Shalala to support UNICCO’s call for an NLRB election rather than to respect the desire of the UNICCO workers for card-check recognition.

* It is not “neutral” to permit UNICCO officials to use University property to lobby their workers against unionization and at the same time to prohibit SEIU organizers from reasonable access to campus to tell their side of the story.

* It is not “neutral” for the Vice President for Human Resources to call public safety in an effort to halt the distribution of food, water, baby formula, and other supplies to UNICCO workers impacted by Hurricane Wilma, when we all know full well that if any other organization – any church, temple, or charitable group – undertook the same effort, Administration officials would have been out in force to help unload the trucks, and Sebastian the Ibis would have been cheering them on.

* It is not “neutral” for the Vice President for Student Affairs to invite students and parents (parents?) to bring complaints about off-campus classes to her attention and to make no mention of the plight of students who may be forced against their wishes to attend classes on campus.

* It is not “neutral” to attempt to limit the UNICCO workers’ picketing to a reserve gate that may as well be in Homestead – far removed from the campus they work so hard to maintain and beautify – although it certainly does provide a revealing contrast to all of last week’s talk about treating campus contract workers as respected members of the University community.

* And it is decidedly not “neutral” to demand that the SEIU follow the rules regarding “reserve gate” picketing when University and UNICCO officials reportedly haven’t followed those rules themselves. (According to the SEIU, as of last night at 10:00 p.m. – when the strike began – there were no signs indicating the reserve gate, nor had there been any instructions to the UNICCO workers to use that gate exclusively, though we won’t be surprised if we later learn that the instructions were distributed to the workforce in a language that most of them could not understand.)

We are appalled that University officials have taken sides against the UNICCO workers in all these ways, and we are more appalled still that they do not have the courage and candor to admit publicly that old-fashioned union-busting – not “neutrality” – is the official University policy in this campaign. We condemn that policy – and urge other members of the University community to do so – in the strongest possible terms.

While I certainly agree with almost all of this, there are a few phrases that I don’t like so much, notably the reference to “back of the bus” which carries a lot of racial baggage.

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