Students and janitors began temporarily resting from a 17-day hunger strike on Friday afternoon. The announcement, delivered by Service Employees International Union (SEIU) President Andrew Stern and Vice President Eliseo Medina, also marked the start of a solidarity hunger fast by Stern, Medina and others.
“I thought it was time to pass on the responsibility to other leaders in the union,” Stern said.
Medina echoed his remarks and explained why the workers and students are eating again.
“We want you to go home, regain your strength,” Medina said. “And come back stronger than ever, to lead this movement to victory.”
The university expressed relief.
“We are relieved that the hunger strike is over and students are safe,” said Margot Winick, director of media relations. “Entering final weeks of classes and exams we hope the SEIU and other protesters respect our students’ rights to finish the semester without any additional disruptions.”
While the hunger fast has been called off for students and janitors, others are taking up the cause. According to Jacob Coker-Dukowitz, junior and member of STAND, 150 people from 30 organizations will fast in solidarity.
“It’s not a de-escalation at all,” Dukowitz said. “It’s a re-escalation on a national level. One hundred and fifty people will be carrying our burden, from Hampshire College to Harvard University.”
Other groups commencing participation in the hunger strike include the American Friends Services Coalition, the Florida Immigrant Coalition, Miami Beach Commissioner Luis Garcia, Rev. James Bush III, and several members of both UM and Florida International University faculty.
Dukowitz described the change of participants as a victorious occasion.
“For [President Donna E.] Shalala, it’s getting to the point where the battle can’t be won,” he said.
Renee Asher, SEIU spokeswoman, referred to the announcement as a transfer of the fast.
“This group’s fasted for 17 days, they did what they set out to do, they set a spotlight on UM, now the national leaders are taking note,” she said.
The strike will continue as final exams approach and students prepare for them.
“We need to meet with faculty and student groups to figure out what happens as we go into graduation,” Asher said. “But Donna Shalala has two options: It can get settled, or it can go on until graduation, and in the fall. This is not going away.”
Nevertheless, the university filed an injunction against SEIU, according to Winick.
“We can confirm we filed to seek injunctive relief to stop the SEIU and its outside supporters from disrupting normal activities of the university, which they have already started to do,” Winick said.
Asher disagreed and saw the move to be hypocritical on Shalala’s part.
“Despite Donna saying that universities are open places and protest is part of that, she doesn’t want the students protesting anymore, and she believes their protesting is being co-ordinated by us,” said Asher in response to the injunction. “It’ll all get settled in court.”
As a part of the continued protests, SEIU is planning a rally for today.
Jay Rooney can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.