2006.05.03: May 3, 2006: Headlines: Figures: COS - Iran: University Administration: Centre Daily Times: Michael Putney writes: Shalala acted honorably in UM Janitor's Strike

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Iran: Special Report: Iran RPCV, Cabinet Member, and University President Donna Shalala: February 9, 2005: Index: PCOL Exclusive: RPCV Donna Shalala (Iran) : 2006.05.03: May 3, 2006: Headlines: Figures: COS - Iran: University Administration: Centre Daily Times: Michael Putney writes: Shalala acted honorably in UM Janitor's Strike

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Michael Putney writes: Shalala acted honorably in UM Janitor's Strike

Michael Putney writes: Shalala acted honorably in UM Janitor's Strike

Given all that you might think I'd be predisposed to side with the SEIU in its fight with Unicco, which employs the UM janitors, and against President Donna Shalala, whose institution contracts with Unicco. In fact, my sympathies are mainly with Shalala, who acted honorably in this dispute, and my enmity is with the SEIU, which showed itself to be manipulative, deceitful and dishonest. Unicco, the third party in the dispute, will never win Most Humane Employer, but the company early on made a good-faith offer to end the strike by holding a quick, fair election and not contesting the results. University of Miami President and former Clinton Cabinet member Donna Shalala served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Iran in the 1960's.

Michael Putney writes: Shalala acted honorably in UM Janitor's Strike

UM janitors' strike -- Shalala: 1; union: 0
By MICHAEL PUTNEY
mputney@local10.com

The janitors' strike at the University of Miami is over, but the questions linger on. Mainly about ends and means and how one side acted as if the former justifies the latter.

I bring a unique perspective and personal history to this story. You see, I was a janitor at a university as a college student and belonged to the union that represented them.

The union was the Teamsters, and the school was the University of California at Berkeley. It was a long time ago, but I remember very well the hard work and sweat involved in stripping caked wax off hallway and classroom floors and the noxious cleaning agents I used on six big, smelly bathrooms every night. But the job paid well, and I was glad to have it. Also glad to belong to a union local that made sure its members were paid a decent wage, got benefits and had a proper grievance procedure when supervisors demanded something unreasonable.

Shalala acted honorably

Given all that you might think I'd be predisposed to side with the SEIU in its fight with Unicco, which employs the UM janitors, and against President Donna Shalala, whose institution contracts with Unicco. In fact, my sympathies are mainly with Shalala, who acted honorably in this dispute, and my enmity is with the SEIU, which showed itself to be manipulative, deceitful and dishonest. Unicco, the third party in the dispute, will never win Most Humane Employer, but the company early on made a good-faith offer to end the strike by holding a quick, fair election and not contesting the results.

Not acceptable to the SEIU, which insisted on a card check where the janitors would say Yes or No to a union in an open process. To get a card check, the union cynically exploited the genuine desire of some UM janitors to unionize, even to the point of encouraging a dozen of them to go on a hunger strike. That's a life-and-death tactic generally reserved to protest a great moral outrage that offers no other solution. But a hunger strike over whether to hold a secret election or a card check? It's not only irresponsible but morally indefensible.

Janitors' health at risk

SEIU President Andy Stern and his subordinates were clearly willing to stop at nothing to get their foot in the door at UM, including putting some janitors' health, and possibly lives, at risk. The union was also willing to spend a lot of money -- about $20,000 per striker, according to one knowledgeable source who puts the total SEIU investment thus far at $1 million.

The SEIU field organizers -- Shalala calls them ''event planners'' -- kept the strikers pumped up and produced the daily ''news'' events that attracted widespread media attention. Teamsters International President James P. Hoffa came to express his solidarity with the UM janitors and the SEIU, but he was really there to advance his new coalition of breakaway unions just as John Edwards was there to advance his presidential ambitions.

Card check vs. election

The SEIU was glad to have them because they repeated the union's mantra of ''justice'' and ''respect'' for the janitors when the real issue, since they had already gotten higher wages and health benefits, was simply how they would choose or reject the union -- by a card check or election. Much of the media, however, bought the justice/respect motif. By the time the university fought back, the PR battle was pretty much over. He who frames the debate usually wins.

The SEIU picked UM to set a precedent for a nationwide campaign to organize university janitors. Only yesterday it won a long-running battle at Georgetown University where the janitorial service provider agreed to a card check. The SEIU insists on card checks for all janitors even though it lets healthcare workers at hospitals and nursing homes hold secret elections. Stern says it makes better sense for janitors to use the card check method, but his argument implicitly says janitors aren't smart enough to vote.

Now the UM janitors will fill out ''pledge cards'' in a process supervised by a disinterested third party, which is probably in everyone's best interest. The university appears to have blinked, and you can't really blame Shalala. A major disruption at the school's graduation ceremony May 12 could have been disastrous.

The villain

''The University of Miami shouldn't be in the business of telling Unicco how to deal with its employees when it comes to a union,'' Shalala told me before Monday's settlement was reached. ''We're not against a union. We are for a secret election. Who can be against something that's democratic?'' Who indeed?

But the SEIU was against it because it figured it would lose an election. Stern picked UM as a test case because Shalala is a national figure well known for her liberal, labor-friendly politics. They tried to demonize her, but failed.

Shalala's argument that the university was ''neutral'' may have been a fiction, but she did right by the janitors, putting their pay and benefits at a par with similar workers here. If there's a villain in this story it's union leaders who were willing to exploit a group of hard-working, unsophisticated immigrant workers to achieve their own larger ambitions.

But it seems to have worked.





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Story Source: Centre Daily Times

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; Figures; COS - Iran; University Administration

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