Here at the University of Miami, we have an almost-perfect president. She is exactly what the doctor ordered: she makes appearances (albeit brief ones) at school events, she listens to the requests of students and takes them seriously-after the strike last year, anyway-and her public image is seamlessly synthesized.
Now before I begin, I just want to clarify that for the record, I know nothing. Off the record, I was involved with the strike last year, and spent 12 hours behind the closed windows of the admissions office dealing with her.
Donna Shalala makes a very conscientious effort not to contradict herself in public, which is impressive, given the different interests she has to represent. She has a very syncretic nature, which is a good thing with most university issues. She speaks, first and foremost, for a very conservative Board of Trustees, in her own progressive voice, and then she incorporates her views and those of her students.
And while I have to hope that somewhere inside her, her progressive side was screaming, the truth is that during the strike, she never let on. She spoke for the university’s financial and legal interests, and her woefully inadequate solution for the workers was that they should let the government handle it. Surely she realized how slow and ineffective this solution was. UNICCO’s position went against over 90% of their positions in other campaigns-if I never hear the phrase “card check vs. secret ballot” again, it will be too soon.
Donna Shalala is well-connected, and she has done an amazing job of pulling strings to benefit the university and her students-there is no disputing that. And while she said that she wanted to get the university more involved with politics, given that STAND, the organization that spearheaded student support of the strike, was created as a direct result of the 2004 elections, I think she got more than she bargained for. There has been a bit of controversy about the origins of STAND-and when I say “controversy,” I mean fabrication, lies, and other slander-and suffice to say I take offense with good reason.
In the end, UNICCO abruptly settled, and the workers unionized via “a fair process” that bore a striking resemblance to the process they had been lobbying for. Rumor has it that it was another female politician who had the moral fiber to stand up for the workers, but that really is unsubstantiated rumor-though it does explain the miraculous timing. On June 15th, they announced their decision to unionize. Their contract included a 30% wage increase, health care that’s actually affordable, and a process to address workplace injustices: solutions to the problems that had motivated them to strike.
A part of me still entertains the romantic notion that Shalala pulled the strings, but the fact is that that goes against 100% of my observations. The strike had a happy ending for the workers, it’s true, but the former Secretary of Health and Human Services had little to do with that.
Bethany Quinn is a senior majoring in Latin American studies and photography. She may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org