Living wages campaign faces new obstacles

Since the speakout on the Rock that kicked off the campaign for better wages and working conditions for UNICCO workers on Sept. 14, Students Towards a New Democry (STAND) and the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) have seen increased support from students and workers alike, as seen during a second speakout at the Episcopal Center on Thursday.

However the event, which students, press and approximately 25 workers attended, is only one of the many steps necessary for workers to achieve their goal.

Eric Brakken, the lead organizer from SEIU heading the campaign on campus, said workers have been approaching the union since the campaign started.

“We had contact with… a great majority of the almost 400 workers at the University for UNICCO, and we have widespread support,” he said.

Following the speakout, students dispersed throughout campus to hand out flyers, while Brakken led a group of workers to petition President Donna E. Shalala to take action and to hand in written testimonies. Despite being told she was unavailable, they left the testimonies in her office to read later.

Brakken described it as an important first step.

“The most important thing is that we gave our testimonies,” he said.

The testimonies given at the speakout, as well as the written testimonies presented to Shalala, include stories from Ana Gomez, a UNICCO worker at Jackson Memorial, who said she was assigned to a room with radioactive material without any protective gear.

Gomez also said that since she went public with her support of the Union, “they have changed my schedule and my duties.”

Martiza Paz, who has worked for UNICCO for 10 years, said she’s only received a 32 cent raise in that time.

“We are human beings. We need health insurance,” Paz said. “We need to be treated like human beings. We need benefits and especially respect.”

The University told The Miami Herald last week that it has decided to remain neutral on the matter, stating that the issue is between UNICCO and SEIU.

While there hasn’t been an official UNICCO response, Brakken and Patrick Walsh, chair of STAND, both think the company has been taking action, in one way or another.

Walsh told of stories of closed-door meetings where supervisors “sit [the workers] in a room and bring in people to talk about how evil unions are…at these meetings, they try to stress the workers out.”

The UNICCO offices at UM have not returned calls for comment.

Brakken said that workers seem emboldened by the speakouts.

“As the fear level gets lower, more of these stories are coming out,” he said. “We’re going to keep going. The workers are strong and they’re united and they’re not going to rest until they get some justice.”

In the meantime, student support for the campaign continues to grow.

“We’ve collected 500 signatures in three days,” Jacob Coker-Dukowitz of STAND said. “This is something very few people will oppose.”

Jay Rooney can be contacted at