Strike Progress!

OK – We’re getting somewhere!

Here’s what the Miami Herald has to say:

University of Miami will raise the minimum wages of its contract employees, including striking janitors and groundskeepers, by at least 25 percent, according to a new policy that will apply to about 900 workers.

Some UM janitors and other workers have been on strike for three weeks, in a effort led by the Service Employees’ International Union, which is trying to organize the employees of Unicco Service Co. While union leaders cheered President Donna Shalala’s decision to raise the floor of wages for the workers, they said the strike against Unicco over unfair labor practices will continue.

Under the new policy, the university will raise its current base hourly pay from $6.40 an hour, the current state minimum wage, to take effect immediately. The new minimum pay for food service workers will be $8 an hour; housekeepers will make $8.55 an hour, and landscapers will make at least $9.30 an hour.

Compensation will also be adjusted for years on the job and merit.

Health care benefits, including medical, dental and vision plans, will also be offered to the workers.

The Board of Trustees has already approved the policy, which will apply immediately to all current contracts — some workers will see pay increases as soon as Sunday — and to all future university contractors, University President Donna Shalala said in a interview on Thursday.

”We are going to lead the market,” Shalala said, adding that this wasn’t a policy just for Unicco, but for all of its contractors. The policy, she said, was in response what the university had heard from the community — including faculty, students, religious leaders and the union.

If true this is wonderful news: it sounds UM and Shalala have stepped up to the plate in a big way. Obviously one would like to read the actual report, though.

That’s not so simple.

Oddly, the University of Miami’s usually hyper-efficient publicity machine has no report of this eagerly awaited event on its web page. In fact, if you look at the homepage for the University of Miami you will no longer even find any links to the University’s statements about strike. Ditto, no press release on the news releases page. Over at the “news” page the top story is “New Medical Dean Named”.

But here’s the thing: the current walkout isn’t simply about money. Indeed, as a legal matter, it’s about unionization, not wages. So while this sounds like the University is doing the right thing, whether this will end the current walkout is less clear, since it doesn’t actually go to the specific issue that sparked the strike, which is unionization. And indeed, as the University kept telling us, those issues are between UNICCO and the workers, and UM is just a neutral party…

And this may explain why the SEIU reply to the UM statement, reproduced at the Picketline Blog (run by faculty supportive of the efforts of the current unionization effort) was a little guarded, almost churlish,

SEIU statement in response to UM’s announcement: For the first time since janitors at the University of Miami began their struggle to improve their lives by forming a union, the University of Miami today acknowledged its direct responsibility for the wages and working conditions of workers on its campus. This afternoon a University workgroup convened by President Donna Shalala released a set of recommendations that would set a minimum wage and increase access to some level of health care for contract workers on the campus, including the janitors.

In the report the University did not acknowledge the janitors’ freedom to choose to form a union.

The details of the workgroup’s recommendations and the timeline for implementation are not yet clear. A previous University of Miami committee issued similar recommendations involving worker compensation in 2001, but they were never implemented.

So it may not be over after all.

The UNICCO statement (everyone except UM is online with this) is even more hard-nosed and confrontational, starting with the headline SEIU will NEVER Be Satisfied,

President Donna Shalala just announced that almost all of UNICCO’s workers at the University of Miami will see significant pay increases, some by as much as 35 to 45 percent. And they will be eligible for healthcare benefits.

SEIU calls the step “incredible” but not enough. The strike goes on.

What’s with these people?

All along, they said this “strike” – which was never authorized by a secret vote of the workers affected – was about higher pay and healthcare benefits.

SEIU wants more … but it will never get enough. We believed from the start that this action was not about our employees. It was – and remains – about SEIU egos.

We are happy for our employees. But we still say, let them vote in a secret election monitored by the Federal government for fairness. Perhaps the faculty and students who supported the SEIU action will now turn their support to our employees.

Let them vote. It’s what we have wanted from the outset.

More soon, when there’s more to relay…

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2 Responses to Strike Progress!

  1. ho hum says:

    oh why did we give you tenure

  2. Michael says:

    I guess the story can now be told:

    Shortly after I was hired, a very senior colleague told me that the unwritten policy at UM was that a tenured faculty member had to read everything a candidate wrote before being entitled to vote against their tenure.

    I resolved then and there to write as many long and turgid articles as I could, in the hopes that the faculty would fall asleep over them and, being fundamentally decent, feel compelled to vote for me if they had not been able to get through the whole stack.

    And it worked.

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