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University, union step up efforts

Supporters of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) marched down Ponce De Leon Boulevard in protest Tuesday morning, demanding President Donna E. Shalala to call on UNICCO to stop unfair labor practices.

Former vice presidential candidate John Edwards, along with Southern Christian Leadership Conference president Rev. Charles Steele and Teamsters president James P. Hoffa, Jr., spoke in support of the striking workers.

“I’m here to support the workers, who’re trying to earn a decent wage, democracy in the workplace, and freedom from intimidation,” Edwards said.

“These workers, all they want is their voices to be heard, and I’d ask [Shalala] to support this cause,” he added.

In addition, Hoffa and Steele requested a meeting with Donna Shalala at the Ashe building. They were turned down, but a legal representative met with them privately afterwards.

The same day, a judge granted an injunction filed by the university against SEIU for disrupting campus activities. According to Margot Winick, director of media relations, the injunction prevents SEIU and its agents from engaging in any disruptive activity on campus.

“In issuing its injunction, the court recognized that the union has been engaging in these disruptions at the university,” Winick said. “We are pleased of the court’s findings and that this injunctive relief will allow the university, its students, and faculty, to continue to engage in its normal activities.”

The SEIU, however, said it was disappointed with the decision.

“It’s unfortunate that the university is cracking down on workers and students while ignoring civil rights violations by UNICCO,” Andrew McDonald, SEIU spokesman, said.

“But it doesn’t change very much. Janitors are going to be able to continue to speak out, and their struggle is getting national attention and is going to continue until this situation is resolved.”

In a statement issued by Shalala on Wednesday, she said she expects UNICCO, and anyone the university does business with, to obey the law.

“We have deep respect for the members of our University community who have differing views on the method of determining the question of union representation,” the statement read. “However, they should not encourage, or invite to campus, those who would disrupt members of our University community.”

Starting last week, students involved in the sit-in have received letters calling them before a disciplinary review board. The students have not elaborated on the charges, but according to Jacob Coker-Dukowitz, a junior and member of STAND, it’s a major charge.

“It’s what you’d get for raping someone,” he said.

The university has declined to comment, citing a federal law preventing them from releasing student records.

All of this comes amid allegations that UNICCO’s health care plan is unaffordable to working families.

According to Anna Burger, SEIU International Secretary-Treasurer and head of the Change to Win coalition, UNICCO’s proposed health plan’s rates hike $250 a month more for a spouse, and another $250 a month for children.

“Are they going to pay for rent, or pay for their children’s health?” Burger asked.

Burger added that not all of the details were known, but unionization could change that.

“If UNICCO had recognized the union, we would be bargaining around this, but they don’t,” she said. “It’s a subsidized health care that costs employees $13 a month,” Brown said.

On UNICCO’s side, the details weren’t clear, but UNICCO has said the situation can be resolved if the SEIU calls for an election.

“They have the power to do so, and we’d agree not to dispute the results or get in the way of the process whatsoever,” Brown said. “We’d love to come to a resolution and let things get back to normal as soon as soon as possible.”

Jay Rooney can be contacted at j.rooney@umiami.edu

April 28, 2006

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The Miami Hurricane

Student newspaper at the University of Miami


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The Miami Hurricane is the student newspaper of the University of Miami in Coral Gables, Fla. The newspaper is edited and produced by undergraduate students at UM and is published weekly on Thursdays during the regular academic year.