More than 200 UNICCO workers gathered at the Episcopal Student Center on Feb. 26 for a vote on whether to strike as the campaign for living wages continues to escalate.
The workers were joined by representatives from the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), students, faculty and the media. After the vote, where workers unanimously voted to go on strike this week, the parties marched out of the Episcopal Center and towards the Stanford-Hecht bridge carrying banners and chanting rallying cries.
Worker testimony formed a large part of the event, which saw testimonies from UNICCO workers from all over, from UM to Miami International Airport to Nova University.
SEIU representative Osvaldo Romero discussed the American Dream.
“We came here in search of a better life,” Romero said. “The American Dream is a dream for some, and a nightmare for others.” He also stressed the importance of change, and said “we are all bound together during this process.”
After the testimonies, the workers stood up and chanted “Strike!” in unison while marching out of the Episcopal church down Stanford Drive, stopping at Eaton and finally at the bridge between Stanford and Hecht.
Rob Schuler, president of SEIU Local 11, chastised not only UNICCO, but also the administration’s decision last week to form a work group to look into living wages. The group is to report back to the administration in 30 days.
“We’re here to send a message to UNICCO,” said Schuler. “And the message is ‘no more promises.’
“We will not wait 30 days while our co-workers are being poisoned, threatened, fired. We will strike and use any tools at our disposal.”
The university, which announced the work group via e-mail Thursday, declined to comment further on the matter.
Students Toward a New Democracy (STAND), the group that has led the drive for living wages, sent a response to the statement within hours of the work group’s formation, calling the university’s efforts “far from adequate” and criticizing a lack of community representation in the group.
Adam Greenberg, a junior, found contradiction in President Donna E. Shalala’s current position and her views as secretary of Health and Human Services.
“In Shalala’s exit interview from her cabinet position, she said her greatest regret was not having health care for every American,” Greenberg said. “She said we need to do something about that.”
According to Michael Fischl, law school professor, 70 faculty members have signed a statement in support of the workers. This statement has been sent to the president and provost, Fischl told The Hurricane in an e-mail.
In light of Sunday’s events, some professors plan to hold their classes elsewhere to respect the picket lines once the strike begins.
STAND leader Jacob Coker-Dukowitz said he was pleased with the proceedings.
“This was a momentous event of huge proportions,” he said. “We have so much community support; it was really surprising.”
Douglas Bailey, UNICCO spokesman, told The Hurricane earlier that the company reviews wages and benefits on a yearly basis.
“There’s not one scrap of evidence to support these complaints [against UNICCO],” he said.
In response to the SEIU, Bailey had some harsh words for the organization.
“They’re not serious about protecting their workers, they’re not serious about providing any benefits themselves,” he said.
Zoila M. Garcia, a UNICCO worker, said the march was only the beginning.
“We’re ready to start the struggle for our health, sustainability, and most importantly, respect,” she said.
UNICCO workers are set to go on strike at some point this week.
Jay Rooney can be contacted at email@example.com.