The efforts led by the Students Toward a New Democracy (STAND) and Service Employees International Union (SEIU) to unionize UNICCO workers escalated over the past week as students staged a walk-in at one of President Donna E. Shalala’s classes, and three more workers and a student were hospitalized after participating in a hunger strike.
Members of STAND interrupted Shalala’s POL 536 class on the evening of April 12. That same day, UNICCO worker Feliciano Hernandez was taken to the hospital after suffering from high blood pressure. Maritza Gomez and Pablo Rodriguez, other workers in the hunger strike, were also taken to the hospital for blood pressure problems on April 13 and April 18, respectively.
Senior Tanya Aquino, a member of STAND, suffered from high blood pressure Tuesday. Aquino, who was on her ninth day of the hunger strike, said she would refuse medical attention until Shalala agreed to another meeting between UNICCO, SEIU and the university (two of these meetings had been held in previous weeks but ended after limited progress was made). At an emergency meeting between STAND members, faculty and Pat Whitely, vice president for student affairs, Whitely called Shalala, who offered to call UNICCO and SEIU by noon Wednesday to set up a meeting.
“She will stall another day,” Aquino said at the meeting. “It’s disgusting.”
Eventually, Aquino agreed to be taken to Doctors’ Hospital.
According to Whitely, Shalala called both parties by Tuesday afternoon to ask them to continue negotiating. UNICCO representative Jim Canavan said the company has been in contact with the university for further negotiations. SEIU representative Renee Asher said the union wanted more action from the university.
“It’s about a lot more than a phone call,” she said. “It’s about the university telling UNICCO they want them to stop violating the law.”
Jacob Coker-Dukowitz agreed.
“Regardless of whether or not [Shalala] called, it’s another day without progress being made,” he said. “And it’s another day these students and workers don’t eat.”
On Wednesday, the Student Government Senate passed a bill titled “A resolution disapproving of recent campus disruptions and demanding that such activities cease immediately.” The bill said STAND and SEIU activities have violated academic rights of students and interfere with the recruitment process of prospective students, and that the protesters vandalized the back entrance of the Ashe building on April 12.
The same day, STAND members staged a sit in at the Ashe building to continue to pressure the administration and UNICCO. Students wore blue tape over their mouths to show that they would not be silenced, they said. During the sit in, Charles Steele Jr., president and CEO of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), spoke with Robert L. Blake from the University’s general counsel. The SCLC was founded by Martin Luther King Jr. to promote civil rights. After the meeting, Steele said that the fact that the parties would be talking was encouraging, but that if no progress was made by Thursday morning, the group was prepared to “shut down the university.”
The sit in continued, with tents set up outside the Ashe building, at press time Wednesday night.
Megha Garg and Patricia Mazzei contributed to this article.
Jay Rooney can be contacted at email@example.com.