Feedback from workers helps administration determine needs
Last year, the Living Wage Coalition brought forth the needs of contract workers on campus, particularly those of the UNICCO employees. They specifically focused on the need for an hourly pay raise to meet the living wage requirement set forth by Miami-Dade County. They also fought for health care and other benefits. University administration, in turn, formed a committee and provided UNICCO workers with courses and programs to help them to improve professionally and locate discounted and effective healthcare options.
“We sat down and thought: ‘Let’s not think so much about the wages, but what we can do to provide opportunities for the contract employees to do things better,'” Dr. Luis Glaser, executive vice-president and provost for UM, said. “All of these things happened without them losing pay.”
Glaser said that providing the workers with courses that would allow them to learn English was a key issue that continually arose in conversations with workers.
“A number of these people have language problems; they’ve come from other countries, and they need to learn English,” Glaser said. “The reality is that many of them realize that to function well in this country, you need to speak English.”
Glaser says that, so far, about 130 workers have graduated and roughly 75 are enrolled in English-proficiency classes. Also, 30 to 40 individuals are enrolled in computer classes. “That’s a lot of people when you think that the total number of contract employees is somewhere between 600 and 700,” Glaser said. “That’s a great success.”
“The computer lessons offered to the UNICCO employees are invaluable in this world’s increasing technology,” Sam Havener, junior, said. “Even McDonald’s employees must have computer knowledge.”
UNICCO workers are also being given the opportunity to earn a GED [Generalized Education Degree] through the Miami-Dade County Public School system.
“High school equivalency is another way of getting a better educational experience that allows for the potential to get better jobs,” Glaser said.
Additionally, Glaser says that UM is providing UNICCO workers and their families with a personal liaison who answers questions, helps fill out forms and gives advice on where to go and what to do in medical emergencies.
“You don’t get very far if you’re not healthy,” Glaser said. “There are a lot of opportunities to get healthcare for people of low income if they know how to access them.”
According to Glaser, in Miami-Dade County there are several free clinics available to individuals with low income.
“If these folks qualify, which many of them would, they just need to know how to access the system, where to go and how to do it efficiently,” Glaser said. “Knowing where to go and how to do it is important and it is particularly true for people who haven’t had to do it before and don’t know how to access the system.”
Glaser also says all workers are entitled to paid sick days per year, and if they do not use these days off, they will be paid extra for working them.
“This has been an extremely successful event,” Glaser said. “All of us know that we need to do certain things sometimes, and if that means less pay, we are caught between the two.”
“Maybe it’s going to the doctor or getting a driver’s license renewed; regardless, having the option of taking the days off has been viewed by the employees that we have talked to with great success,” Glaser said.
Some students are still working toward the living wage issue, despite the programs, classes and assistance that UM has provided to UNICCO workers.
“I don’t see what the point of the classes is if they don’t have the time to take them,” said Laurel Bernstein, junior and member of the Living Wage Coalition. “They have to work two jobs and support their families. We appreciate the administration’s acknowledgement, but it’s totally unacceptable.”
“The groundwork may have been paved with opportunities and computer classes, but there still remains bumps within the program. The primary bump is the lack of hourly wages offered to UNICCO employees,” Oscar De La Pena, senior, said. “Indeed, UM has developed initiatives to diversify UNICCO’s employees with added skills, but there has to be an initiative to increase their wages.”
Most students, however, feel UM administration has found an effective middle-ground concerning the issue.
“I think that the University has met the needs of the employees in a really creative way,” said Will Sampson, sophomore. “If the University had given the employees raises then they probably would have had to lay-off some of them. This way everybody wins.”
“The classes can only help the employees better themselves which can help them earn other jobs, either off campus or even managerial positions on campus,” Tricia Wayne, freshman, said. “UM has found the balance between employees’ needs and business needs – I think that it will work really well.”
Glaser says he and the administration involved in these initiatives are open to suggestions and will continually revise and reevaluate the program’s effectiveness.
“We are continuing to see what we can do to make things better,” Glaser said. “We obviously ask people what their experience has been to the extent that will allow us to help them.”
“It’s been good and I think that we’ve done something positive and I’m glad,” Glaser said.
Leigha Taber can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.