Students Toward a New Democracy (STAND) is stepping up its efforts to unionize and demand higher wages for UNICCO employees at the University. STAND, which spearheaded the campaign with Service Employees International Union (SEIU) last semester, has recently had other student organizations join, including United Black Students, OUTspoken and faith-based community leaders.
However, its rhetoric has been increasingly directed toward the university’s official position of remaining neutral during the dispute to demand living wages for UNICCO employees. Both STAND and university officials repeatedly assert their opposing positions as UNICCO faces charges from the National Labor Relations Board.
“UNICCO dropped [the complaint against SEIU] for insufficient evidence and these are the same charges UNICCO’s been slapped with,” Jacob Coker-Dukowitz of STAND said.
As the issue deepens, and media coverage increases, Coker-Dukowitz believes the university should take a more proactive stance, citing a 2001 decision by Student Government and the Faculty Senate to increase wages.
“[President] Shalala has refused to implement a living wage as requested by Student Government and the Faculty Senate, and several student organizations and faith-based groups,” Coker-Dukowitz said.
Roosevelt Thomas, vice president of human resources, said the university is simply doing what the union told him to.
“[SEIU] asked me in June to please keep the university neutral, and that’s what we’ve done. UNICCO hasn’t raised an issue, but the union, because it needs the university’s support, has asked us to remove the university’s position of neutrality that they asked for in the beginning,” Thomas said.
Coker-Dukowitz, however, said this isn’t the case.
“Nothing in our request for change asks them to not be neutral.”
He doesn’t believe the university is acting very neutral on the matter regardless. Despite the movement now being a “national issue” and counting on “broad community support,” Dukowitz said that Shalala, while willing to meet with him, won’t meet with other student representatives from the organizations involved.
“Shalala will now refuse to meet with these students until the organizing process is over,” Coker-Dukowitz said. “I don’t see how. It’s a violation of neutrality to not speak with the students; this is a big deal for me.”
STAND’s fresh questioning of the administration adds to previous criticism that the university is not providing job security for the workers and not allowing SEIU representatives on campus.
“[SEIU reps] are allowed on campus as a guest of the students,” Thomas said. “There are guidelines in place, and as long as students follow those guidelines, they can invite outside entities on campus. On my side, we have a solicitation policy and we do not allow solicitation on campus.”
Thomas also mentioned services in place that are available to UNICCO employees. According to Thomas, the university’s two-year-old Enrichment Program offers health service at the Health Center, as well as courses in English and computer skills.
“We’ve had close to 300 patient appointments. We’ve had many total participants,” Thomas said.
Still, STAND has no intentions of slowing down soon.
“It has been recognized that poverty is not a value that we want to promulgate. It will continue to grow until the administration becomes responsive, and until we pay enough for families to feed their families,” Dukowitz said. “We ask them for a living wage and they respond with a blanket of ‘neutrality.’ They’re dodging the question.”
Jay Rooney can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.