Demand a living wage for our UNICCO workers

Students at UM often remark that going to school here is like studying at a country club, but most take our beautiful surroundings for granted. Most of us walk to class and don’t even look twice at the UNICCO workers trimming palm fronds, cutting grass and generally keeping the landscaping great.

Even those who live in the towers try to ignore the workers who change the toilet paper, clean the showers and mop the floors. Not until Hurricane Katrina barreled through Coral Gables and ripped up half of campus did anyone start to appreciate how much work it is to keep the University of Miami looking like it does. If few students notice the omnipresent UNICCO workers, I’ll bet fewer than a hundred know-or care-what they get for their troubles.

I talked to a representative from the S.E.I.U. (Service Employees International Union) about it, so allow me to throw some facts at you. UNICCO employs about 400 workers on the Coral Gables campus. The high end of the pay scale is in the seven-dollar range; most employees make from $6.30 to $6.50 and hour. S.E.I.U. interviewed a man named Nelson Hernandez. He has been working here at UM for 25 years and he makes $6.80 an hour. Don’t be surprised if you find his face staring up at you from a flyer some time soon.

In addition to wages that put their employees well under the poverty line, UNICCO offers no job security, no sick days beyond two days of “personal leave,” and worst of all, no health insurance. Nice guys. We are not going to take this sitting down. A new student organization, S.T.A.N.D., is leading a campaign along with the S.E.I.U. that demands a living wage and fair treatment for the workers.

UNICCO has resorted to scare tactics to keep their employees from unionizing. To win their fight, the workers need the support, and the voices, of the students of UM.

Tomorrow, Wednesday, Sept. 14, there will be a speakout at noon on the Rock. About 10 UNICCO employees will get up with a microphone and the assistance of a translator and tell us what their lives are like. There will also be representatives from the S.E.I.U. on hand. On Thursday, S.T.A.N.D. will be hosting a screening of the film Occupation on the UC Patio at 8 p.m. Occupation tells the story of a similar campaign fought at Harvard just a few years ago. Help make a monumental difference in someone’s life. Stand with UNICCO workers in their quest for a living wage.

Patrick Gibbons can be contacted at p.gibbons@umiami. edu.