UM UNICCO Strike FAQ

Via Michael Fischl comes this UNICCO Strike FAQ — many answers to one frequently asked question (does that make it a freqently answered question?):

If so many UNICCO employees really want a union, why aren’t they all striking?

There are a lot of answers to this question, so our apologies in advance for not responding with a sound-byte.

Answer # 1: Don’t believe everything you hear from University officials. There is far greater strike support than University officials are willing to admit. The SEIU reports that fully 50% of the Coral Gables workforce joined the strike by Wednesday afternoon, and an internal report from a senior official in the Department of Residence Halls confirms that approximately that percentage were MIA in the residential colleges on Wednesday and Thursday. Eyewitness accounts confirm that over 100 UNICCO workers were out at the picket line yesterday, and the suggestion by some UM officials that most of the picketers have been shipped in from elsewhere is nonsense. Indeed, those of us who have lived as well as worked on campus were able to recognize virtually all of the faces at the picket site.

Answer # 2: Because they are scared of retaliation by UNICCO. The National Labor Relations Board has already charged UNICCO officials with unlawful spying, unlawful interrogations, unlawful threats of reprisals, and various other unlawful actions against the union supporters. And according to an eyewitness account in yesterday’s Orlando Sentinel, one of the leading organizers was fired a few days before the strike vote after she spoke with a reporter about the union campaign. For the story, see here:

Last night, at a program on the strike held at Eaton Residential College, one of the union organizers whom UNICCO has not fired yet was asked by a member of the audience why some of her colleagues had not yet walked off the job. Her response was, “They are so afraid”; on this record, they have good reason to be.

Answer # 3: Because they are scared of even greater consequences than job loss. Three of our faculty colleagues – Elizabeth Aranda (Sociology), Elena Sabogal (Latin American Studies), and Sallie Hughes (Communication) – had this to say in response to a question from another faculty member about the strength of strike support:

“We have been researching the immigrant/Latino communities here for a couple of years now. In the course of our research, we have spoken to Unicco workers on campus. One of the things we have learned is that many are part of a vulnerable population—more than earning poverty wages, these workers share an immigrant background that places them at an additional level of disadvantage. We speculate that some of them cannot afford to engage in civil disobedience because they know this could jeopardize their immigrant status. It’s not just about losing their jobs or missed wages—they could put in danger the right to be in this country. One thing we have consistently heard in our interviews is that life as an immigrant has become harder to endure since 9/11 due to increasing fears of deportation in spite of being in the country legally. So, they lay low—something that is incompatible with a public demonstration. We feel this makes their fight even more courageous. In speaking to some of the workers in the past week, they have expressed to us how much they appreciate that students and faculty are fighting their fight. Even though some who we have spoken to do not plan to picket, rather than interpret this as a sign of ambivalence or non-support, in our view, it is part of their strategies for survival that involve remaining “invisible.” The legal community could probably speak more on this issue that we can, but many immigrants feel that even if they are here legally, they are subject to deportation if they are arrested. This underscores their vulnerabilities as a population marginalized by multiple structures of inequality, something we should keep in mind as the strike unfolds.”

Answer # 4: Because they need to eat. We need to keep in mind that these workers are making poverty-level wages and are hardly in a position to give them up, even for short periods. (In that connection, donations of food and related supplies are welcome at the Strike Sanctuary at Canterbury Chapel on campus.) Moreover, the UNICCO employee who spoke last night at the Eaton function said that UNICCO was now offering its workers the overtime pay that many of them have been seeking for some time. That’s not illegal – UNICCO can do all sorts of things to tempt folks to cross the picket line – but it is laced with irony, since it means that those who continue to work during the strike will be the first campus contract employees in three decades to make a living wage. (Too bad you can’t eat irony.)

Answer # 5: Because the SEIU – realizing all of the above – hasn’t asked all of its supporters to strike. Yet.

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