Mar. 10, 2006 – A week-and-a-half-long strike by contracted janitors at one of Floridaâ€™s wealthiest universities shows no sign of slowing.
Janitors and their faculty and student supporters expanded picket lines to the University of Miamiâ€™s medical college yesterday and are expected to hold a rally at the Miami airport this afternoon.
The workers went on strike at the end of last month over pay and labor conditions. The janitors say they toil for poor pay in unsafe working environments and they have little opportunity to seek redress from the contracting firm that employs them.
The strike was sparked in part by the firing of one janitor who spoke to the Orlando Sentinel about union organizing efforts at the school, where, according to the paper, the cleaning staff receives no health benefits and many are paid less than $7 an hour. Some of the janitors, who are mainly Haitian and Cuban immigrants, have reportedly been trying to organize a union among the rest of the maintenance staff for over a year.
According to the Service Employees International Union, which has been working to organize the janitors and is assisting in pickets and other strike events, maintenance workers employed by Unicco Service Company at the university earn as little as $51 a day. By contrast, the same Boston-based janitorial services contractor pays its unionized employees at Harvard over $13 an hour, the union noted.
Two weeks ago, janitors gathered at a church on the campus and voted to approve a strike, SEIU said in a statement. The workers have no formal union representation.
Students and faculty at the university have joined in efforts to aid the janitorsâ€™ campaign for better working conditions. According to statements by Students Toward a New Democracy (STAND), over 100 members of the university community actively support the striking janitors. STAND has been active in both the Unicco organizing efforts and living-wage campaigns at the school.
Initially intended to be short in both target and duration, the strike appears to be gaining momentum as SEIU and others supporting the workers have turned their attention to University of Miami President and former US Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala. The union has posted Shalalaâ€™s contact information online and is urging people to call her office and ask her to support the striking janitors.
Monday, the Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of Miami issued a statement calling on Shalala to intervene in the job action and work with the janitors and members of the Interfaith Committee for Worker Justice to resolve the situation. The Bishopâ€™s call came after a mass held for the janitors.
The university has remained neutral throughout the janitorsâ€™ 18-month organizing campaign and has not interceded since the strike began early last week. In a statement released prior to the strike vote, Shalala said the school has not entered into the fray because "Unicco employees are the ones who should make the choice concerning representation, pursuant to procedures established under Federal labor laws."
Instead of taking sides, Shalala announced that she is convening a group to conduct a "thorough review of compensation and benefits accorded to all contract employees working" at the university.