As many of you know, at the end of the semester there was an insurgence of purple shirts, workers on strike, tent cities, and students protesting. Where did all of that go?
On May 1st, just days before graduation, news of the victory came. The SEIU and UNICCO had agreed upon a way in which the janitors would be able to unionize and when striking workers would return to work. They also reasoned that Zoila Mursuli, a worker that was fired after a Sun Sentinel reporter came to interview her, would be re-hired and given full back-pay from the time she was unjustly fired. This, in itself, was a triumph. The service workers who keep this university running, who are often considered invisible, won respect and their livelihood for the first time.
Within the agreement, the SEIU was required to obtain 60% of UNICCO workforce signatures on cards. The cards read, in Creole, Spanish, and English, that whoever signed it wanted to unite with their co-workers for a better life and be represented by SEIU Local 11. This was accomplished in perfect timing with national Justice for Janitors day on June 15th.
An independent third party had reviewed the signatures, counted the cards, and declared the union to be official. For the rest of the summer, a bargaining committee, made up of a group of workers and SEIU organizers, met with UNICCO to discuss the details for the UM contract. After playing stalemate for days, an agreement on contract language was breeched by the committee and UNICCO last Tuesday.
On Wednesday, August 23rd, the contract was ratified with a unanimous vote by over 100 janitors at the Episcopal Church on campus, formerly known as the ‘Strike Sanctuary’.
Victory, in any form, has never felt this good. For those of us who risked our health, reputation, academic standing, attendance at UM, and for those workers who put their lives on the line for justice, respect, and a voice at the workplace, I congratulate you. It was in no way easy, and should not be down played. I encourage everyone, no matter how sympathetic to the fight, to take some time to acknowledge the victors of justice. What they have done is incredible, and the work that they do here cannot be matched. They are people too, who deserve every piece of the American dream.
I dedicate this article to the late Julia Rosa Alvarez, a UNICCO worker, who died on August 9th from a heart attack. May she rest assured that she was valued and loved by the UM community.
Alyssa Cundari is a sophomore majoring in History and Political Science. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.