UM janitors and UM students

The recent report by three UM senators on the student impact of implementing a living wage for UM’s UNICCO workers cites me as methodological advisor. I did advise the authors, but several of my key points were either misunderstood or ignored, creating a misleading impression. A couple of points should be clarified.

Most crucially, the report asserts that the entire cost of increased janitorial wages would likely have to be taken from student tuition. This makes no sense. Student tuition is only 22.3 percent of the university’s operating budget. Therefore, student tuition should only be responsible for 22.3 percent of any increased cost. Taking the report’s increased cost figures at face value (no source is given, so checking their accuracy is impossible to do), cost per undergraduate student would be at most $49.35 per year, not the figures of just over and under $200 contained in the report.

Second, the report asserts that it is illegal and impossible to use funds from the endowment to pay for “living wage” increases. This is not entirely true, only true for the restricted part of the endowment. University reports show that the unrestricted net assets of the university went up $8.1 million in the year ending May 2005, and up a whopping $166.9 million in the year ending May 2004. Unrestricted money can be spent on wage increases for janitors, as it can for many other purposes.

UM can afford to require contractors to pay above the poverty level. Depending on how it chooses to fund such pay increases, the cost to each UM student could be anywhere between $0 and around $200, but any figure above about $40-$50 per student would be a clear injustice to the students being forced to subsidize other segments of the university.

Living wages have numerous beneficial consequences for the community as a whole. For a summary of virtually all the extant literature on living wages, visit the website www.epi.org/content.cfm/bp170.

Dr. Bruce Nissen

Director of Research, Center for Labor Research and Studies

Florida International University

Strike continues, Workers fired

In response to faculty, students, clergy and workers, the University of Miami has taken responsibility for its contracting practices for the first time. It is the first university in Florida to be forced to respond to community pressure for ethical contracting. It is an amazing step forward for UM. It took five years of attempted diplomacy, a well-attended march, leading clergy and bishops, more than a dozen mayors local politicians, and countless faculty and student organizations. It also took hundreds of hard-working employees who are trying to organize themselves on a campus where they faced intimidation and the threat of losing their livelihoods.

One can not overstate the importance of this action. One can not commend the university enough for taking action.

Nonetheless, a raise in the middle of a union drive is not a permanent solution. If this university’s reluctance to institute better pay practices for five years are an indicator, there is no doubt we will do this again in five years. Many promises were made in 2002, and those activists, now graduates, say that few of those promises ever came to fruition.

And now workers have found a voice of their own. A majority of them (despite lectures from the university and UNICCO on democracy and respect) has decided in what fashion they choose to form a union. By signing cards that say in big bold letters “I want a union”, that can be checked by an independent party, workers have chosen a legal and oft-used method free of intimidation, free of fear.

Yet both the university and UNICCO continue to mock that decision openly by calling for an “election” process so rittled with holes that UNICCO can continue with mandatory anti-union meetings, threatening workers for union sympathies, and then draw the process out for years with appeals. All this while a large percentage of workers have already stated what they want.

The Orlando Sentinel reported that Zoila Marsuli was recently fired for supporting a union at UM. Thus, if elections be voting under Castro, then so be it. But many, unlike Castro, believe in a democracy where the freedom to organize one selves for collective bargaining (as laid out Universal Deceleration of Human Rights) is respected. So to should what legal fashion one chooses to organize be respected. This pay raise is a great leap forward. But it is no leap yet finished.

Neither the university or UNICCO has mentioned anything about Zoila, or the complaints filed against UNICCO by the government for spying, intimidating, and threatening workers with their jobs becuase on union support.

Student’s rallies were for wages, but organizing in the work place without fear of threats and reprisals is the goal of workers and the goal of the strike. Workers don’t need the university and UNICCO to tell them how to organize. Workers have decided themselves. We applaud you, UM, but we must continue and step forward and say that firing and threatening workers is not OK, and that you respect their decision.

Jacob Coker-Dukowitz