Students and employees have taken action to improve conditions for which UNICCO janitorial staff work under-conditions that literally hover below the federal poverty line.

It is important to clarify what Students Toward a New Democracy (STAND) and other groups want and ask of the university. It is not STAND’s goal to gain union membership. The decision to join a union is strictly up to employees.

The real issue is UM President Donna Shalala’s position of neutrality regarding SEIU-employee relations. Dozens of workers have said that there have been mandatory anti-union meetings held by UNICCO, where workers are told that membership is an indication of a low IQ, among other insults.

Shalala has had a policy of forceful removal of SEIU officials on campus, denying them their right to solicit employees. This despite UM’s solicitation policy (section A011) that explicitly allows union activity on campus. Neutrality that permits UNICCO’s anti-union propaganda while silencing legitimate union efforts is not real neutrality.

Students request that SEIU officials be given equal access. We want each worker to be able to make his or her own decision.

Shalala could go a step further. STAND and other organizations want her to agree that she will not cut the contract with UNICCO if the union drive is successful, and thus force 400 low-income workers out of their jobs. Shalala has made no such commitment, even though students raised the issue at an open forum recently.

Regardless of the outcome of the union drive, Shalala should commit to help fund a living wage and maintain healthcare for the service employees under UNICCO, which has said that all Shalala would have to do is give it more money, and it would help to institute these fundamental improvements. We ask that UM help workers meet the basic level of subsistence in one the poorest large cities in the country.

None of STAND’s requests are inconsistent with Shalala’s commitment to neutrality on the union drive. The issues are: equitable access to union efforts, commitment to a living wage, and a commitment that people can keep their jobs if they unionize. We do not believe that poverty and complicity with corporate interests are values that Shalala or UM embraces. The diverse coalition who is addressing this issue has faith that they will discover what is really valuable-dignity for labor and respect for employees, which mean benefits and a living wage.

Jacob Coker-Dukowitz