Chartwells, Unicco negotiate for higher wages

Chartwells and UNICO employees held a conference at the Stanford Drive entrance Wednesday to express their displeasure with current employment compensation. Nick Gangemi // Assistant Photo Editor

On Wednesday, at the entrance of Stanford Drive, about 50 Chartwells and Unicco employees could be heard shouting “justice.”

The full slogan: “What do we want? Justice! When do we want it? Now!” They were holding signs that stated “We Are Worth More” with a backdrop of orange and green.

Employees gathered with Eric Brakken, director of 32BJ SEIU, the local chapter of the Service Employees International Union, to review the recent negotiations with Chartwells’ parent company Compass Inc. and DTZ, previously Unicco, the company that employs UM’s custodians and landscapers.

The union and Chartwells employees met yesterday morning at the BankUnited Center for a final bargaining meeting. Compass did not budge and are staying with a wage increase of only 20 cents and the same health insurance plan with a $250 deductible and a 30 percent copayment.

SEIU’s current offer was a 65-cent wage increase for the first year, a 50-cent for the second year with a modified health insurance plan and the third year follows with a 60-cent wage increase.

The union’s proposed health insurance plan involves a $0 deductible and a $0 to $20 copayment that would go into effect in 2015. The current plan is proposed for 2016.

Brakken claimed that Chartwells and Unicco employees make less than the average standard living wage of $12 per hour for Miami-Dade County. Minimum wages for the employees were not specified, but most earn less than $10,000 a year. The federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour.

Linda Bellinger, a Chartwells employee who works at Hecht and Stanford Dining Hall, feels that if wages do not continue to increase, then employees should be committed to going on strike.

“We need to stick together,” she said at the Stanford Drive gathering.

Chartwells will not have a similar meeting until Sept. 17.

Florida Senator Dwight Bullard made an appearance and called on the university to take action. He inspired the employees to shout, “Step it up loud enough for Shalala to hear.”

University custodial workers also stood with Chartwells employees. They gathered last Saturday at St. Bede Episcopal Chapel to demand better wages as well. Janitors are being offered a 10-cent increase.

DTZ and formerly called Unicco is a private company hired by UM, which is not involved in the contract dispute between Unicco and its employees, according to a prepared statement from the university. Business will continue as usual “under any scenarios related to these negotiations, and as needed if negotiations are not concluded in a timely manner,” the statement added.

Unicco’s contract with its unionized workers expires on Saturday. If the union’s demands are not met, then they will also go on strike. A specific day for the beginning of the strike has not been decided.

Like Chartwells employees, Unicco workers feel that their current wages do not allow them to live properly in Miami.

“The cost of living is high and our salaries are not being increased,” said Marlene Trejos, a custodial worker. “There will not be cleanliness then.”

Unicco’s final bargaining meeting will happen tomorrow morning at SEIU’s downtown office before a potential strike this weekend.

“We are not hopeful with these wage increases on the table,” Brakken said. “If they don’t get the message, then the university will experience what it means not to get fed, not to get cleaned and not to look beautiful.”