“There is no neutrality in the face of oppression,” she said.
The strike comes a week after the cleaning and landscaping workers at UM reached a contract agreement with their employer after agreeing to strike if they were not satisfied with the company’s offer.
DTZ/Unicco workers announced last Tuesday they had accepted a contract that would increase hourly pay by 35 cents and give them one more personal day per year.
The company initially offered a 10-cent pay increase for the 410 workers. The union had authorized a strike if Unicco had not given a better offer by the time the contract expired on Aug. 31.
"We are very pleased that we could reach an agreement with our workers on this contract," said George Lohnes, a spokesman for DTZ. "We value the relationship with our union partners and our employees and look forward to a continued strong working relationship."
This was the second contract for the Unicco workers. They went on strike in 2006 to increase wages. They were making a minimum of $6.40 an hour at the time, which Unicco raised to at least $8.55 an hour, plus health insurance, with the first contract.
"Over the last seven years DTZ/Unicco workers have been able to make dramatic improvements to their lives," said Erik Brakken, director of 32BJ SEIU Florida, which also represents Chartwells. "They’ve gone from a situation where they were in extreme poverty to a situation where they have jobs that pay them wages that they can support their families with."
Before their 2006 strike, some of the Unicco workers were making $13,000 per year, or $3,000 more than some Chartwells workers are now making.
"We’re focused on bringing the Chartwells workers closer to where the Unicco workers are, than where they are now," Brakken said. "We’re hopeful that the university and Chartwells want to help bring food service up to a place where they can raise families and plan for a better future."
Ira Davis, who has worked for Chartwells for a decade, said the dining halls are understaffed, which makes the low wages even more frustrating.
“We’re doing two people’s jobs,” Davis said. “They don’t want to hire anybody.”
But for Davis and many other employees, the hope is that with a new contract, they will be able to lead more normal lives.
“Sometimes I want to be able to plan a vacation too. I can’t even do that,” she said.