With the end of their contract approaching, members of 32BJ SEIU, the union representing janitors and groundskeepers at the University of Miami, voted unanimously Saturday in favor of a strike authorization.
Their contract expires Aug. 31 and the vote would give their bargaining committee the authority to call a strike if no agreement is reached. The committee and GCA Services, the university’s cleaning contractor, have been negotiating since July.
Members of the Service Employees International Union local, which represents almost 400 workers who clean classrooms, dorms, laboratories, the campus morgue and UM’S Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center, earn on average $12.63 an hour. But 28 percent of them earn in the range of $9 to $11 an hour, which places them below the federal poverty line, said Ana Tinsly, the union’s Florida communications director.
The union said that GCA is proposing wage increases of just pennies per hour as well as reductions in health insurance benefits. “They have a great health insurance plan, but now the company is trying to roll back those benefits,” Tinsly said.
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“That screams unfairness,” she said. “We refer to ourselves as Canes. The workers are just as much a part of this community as the students and faculty. Their work is crucial to the functioning of the university.”
Around 200 union members crowded into the St. Bede Episcopal Chapel on the UM campus for the vote and held a rally before marching across U.S. 1., chanting Sí, se puede (Yes, it can be done) and carrying union banners and signs saying, “We are worth more.”
This year marks the 10th anniversary of the janitors’ successful fight to unionize in a right to work state. At that time, the workers were earning $6.30 an hour. “Where we are now is a big success story, but we’re still not where we need to be,” Tinsly said.
“We perform some of the hardest work on campus — and we deserve to be justly compensated,” said Clara Vargas, a cleaner who participated in a 17-day hunger strike that was part of the fight to unionize a decade ago.