The Service Employees International Union (SEIU) called a hunger strike after a follow-up meeting held Tuesday between students, faculty, the SEIU and UNICCO. The hunger strike, which will involve students and workers, asks for the university to take a more proactive stance against unfair labor practices.
“They gave minor concessions, but the university wasn’t serious about trying to find a fair process set,” said Jacob Coker-Dukowitz, a junior and a member of STAND, who was present at the meeting.
“Meanwhile, the illegal anti-union campaign has dramatically escalated, and the situation has to be resolved soon,” he said. “Waiting until finals is not an option.”
Workers have set up tents across the university as well as in the median dividing Ponce De Leon and along U.S. 1. Those present were defiant toward the university and UNICCO.
“I want to send a message to UNICCO: We won’t stop until we succeed,” said Reinaldo Hernandez, a UNICCO worker participating in the hunger strike.
“We’re stronger, more united than ever,” he said. “I also have a message for President Shalala: We won’t accept the proposals she’s given. UNICCO is sweeping the floor with her.”
Renee Asher of SEIU Media/Press Relations explained the process of hunger striking.
“You don’t stop eating on the first day,” Asher said. “You phase out proteins first, then carbohydrates. Students at Georgetown fasted for nine days.”
A post on universitytruth.com, a blog set up by UNICCO on the campaign to unionize, found it hard to take the hunger strike seriously.
“Tactics that used to be reserved for protesting illegal wars, imperial occupations and the slaughter of innocents are now being used to protest what?” the statement read.
The university released a statement decrying the hunger strike.
“The University is distressed that the SEIU would ask UM students and striking UNICCO contract employees to risk their health in a hunger strike,” the statement read. “The proposed hunger strike is an effort by the SEIU and a handful of their supporters to prevent the UNICCO employees from having the opportunity to vote on union representation in a timely democratic election-free of coercion and intimidation.”
University president Donna E. Shalala expressed similar sentiments in an interview with The Hurricane.
“I think it’s sort of sad, because normally, hunger strikes aren’t about process issues,” Shalala said. “It’s their decision.
“They have to decide how to bring visibility to their position, which is not to have elections. It’s their judgment, but I do hope they don’t risk their health this way.”
Shalala also commented on the progress in dialogue between SEIU and UNICCO.
“It’s pretty much up to them now, but I’ll keep encouraging them,” she said. “The wage and healthcare issues have been dealt with. It’s really all about the process now.”
Despite the statement released by the university, some students believe that a hunger strike is their only option.
“We’re driven to do the hunger strike because we refuse to wait for promises to come to fruition,” said Tanya Aquino, a senior and member of STAND, who is participating in the hunger strike. “The only thing that has made the university act is workers and students’ direct actions, so we’ll continue to demonstrate until fair process is agreed upon and the strike ends.”
Jay Rooney can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org