University of Miami janitors threaten to strike

More than 400 custodial workers at the University of Miami say they’re prepared to go on strike unless they receive favorable contract terms by midnight on Aug. 31. Their strike would begin the next day.

Many of the workers, represented by a local chapter of the Service Employees International Union, gathered Saturday at St. Bede Episcopal Chapel near the university’s campus, where they voted to approve the potential strike.

After the vote, the workers marched along U.S. 1 near the school’s entrance.

Their contract is up for renewal on the last day the month. A union spokesman said they are demanding higher wages and other changes. Bargaining discussions have been ongoing for several weeks.

“A lot of what we’re fighting for here is about more than raises,” said Eric Brakken, director of 32BJ SEIU Florida. “Today’s vote is about dignity and standing up for our families and communities. What the janitors are being offered now — a 10-cent wage increase a week — is not going to move us forward.”

Janitors at the university are employed by DTZ Inc., previously Unicco and UGL Limited, the contractor hired by UM to clean buildings and provide lawn maintenance. The university is not directly involved in the contract negotiation.

In a prepared statement, the UM said it “is not directly involved in this process,” and will conduct business as usual as the semester gets under way.

“The UM is aware that its contract workers employed by DTZ, who have a competitive wage and health care insurance package, are currently negotiating a new collective bargaining agreement with the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). DTZ, and its predecessor, have previously successfully negotiated two collective bargaining agreements,” the statement said.

Accordingly, the University expects all employees and faculty to avoid actions that could impair the institution’s core educational mission and its commitment to teaching, and to act in the best interests of our students.

If the university’s custodial workers strike, it would be the second time since 2006, when janitors fought to unionize. For nine weeks, they led hunger strikes, sit-ins and work walkouts until Unicco agreed to allow them to form a union.

Before the 2006 strike, UM janitors earned a minimum of $6.40 an hour, which Unicco raised to at least $8.55 an hour, plus health insurance. That contract has been renewed once; negotiations now are for the contract’s second renewal.

Meanwhile, about 285 of the school’s cafeteria workers also are in the process of negotiating a contract. The food-service employees, who work for contractor Chartwells Dining Services, unionized in May. Brakken said the cafeteria workers, some of whom earn less than $10,000 a year, are hoping for better wages in their first contract.

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