Justice for janitors, hunger and help

Students stand in solidarity with the janitors at the University of Miami.

Last week several students at the University of Miami joined janitors in their ongoing two-week hunger strike.

The strike was started, in part, by labor disputes that the 425 janitors working at the university have with its labor subcontractor, UNICCO.

Although UNICCO already has increased the workers’ wages from minimum wage to $8.55 an hour and added health benefits, the hunger strikers are demanding that workers receive a living wage ($9 an hour) along with the right to unionize on their own terms. The demands of the workers are far from unreasonable and should be met immediately. The labor union, Service Employees International Union, that has been involved with the seven-week general strike would like to represent the university’s janitors and says it has the support of a majority of the workers. It is important that the union be allowed at the table in this controversy because under their representation it would be harder for UNICCO to coerce the janitors. Many in the University of Miami community and across the nation have criticized the president of the university, Donna Shalala, for not pressuring UNICCO to allow the janitors to unionize on their own terms.

The critics of Shalala are absolutely right; the fact is, the university pays UNICCO, and therefore cannot remain neutral in this issue. UNICCO has had many charges of worker intimidation, spying and mistreatment from employees across the country. The university’s continued neutral stance and working relationship with the subcontractor makes it complicit with these wrongs and equally responsible.

So far four hunger strikers have been hospitalized for complications related to the strike. We hope the president of the University of Miami doesn’t allow this to continue.

The labor dispute at the University of Miami is just another example of how the working-class poor continue to be exploited in this country and even on university campuses. We should be thankful workers on our campus are vigilant of their rights as well.