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UMiami Students Strategize to Support Janitors' Strike!
March 5, 2006

LWAC has been working with the amazing UMiami student living wage activists of Students Towards A New Democracy (STAND) ever since our 2-day LWAC training in October 2005. A couple weeks ago, students found out that UMiami janitors (employed by contractor UNICCO) planned to strike for living wages, healthcare and union recognition by a card-check. Students called LWAC to set up an all-day strategizing session to plan out the next month as this campaign escalates more and more!

The strike began this past Tuesday. On Friday, the day before I arrived, students organized a huge march. An estimated 500 students, faculty, UNICCO workers and community members blocked major intersections as they circled the campus. STAND, along with workers, is calling on university president Donna Shalala to commit funds to ensure UNICCO workers get a living wage and healthcare, and stop blocking UNICCO workers from organizing with Service Employees International Union local 11.

You might remember Donna Shalala as the Secretary of Health & Human Services during the Clinton administration — . Despite claiming her "greatest regret" from her years under Clinton is "that we didn't put health care for low-income working families" (New York Times, 1/16/01), Shalala has thus far allowed UNICCO janitors and other campus workers to live without any healthcare coverage. This irony is only surpassed by the fact that Shalala was the subject of a luxury home profile last month in the New York Times Magazine while she simultaneously refused to ensure campus workers are paid living wages. STAND continues to demand that Shalala does the right thing and accepts workers' demands.

Our training was on Saturday. I was joined by Anna and Aaron, two student organizers of the legendary Harvard living wage sit-in. We shared experiences from our own direct action experiences (I was a hunger striker at Georgetown) and guided the UMiami students' discussion about goals, tactics, and more. Check the LWAC site often as we try our best to keep up with all the exciting news to come from STAND's campaign!

I had the pleasure of staying in town through an exciting event on Sunday. On Sunday morning, Miami Bishop Felipe Estavez held a "janitors' mass" for the striking UNICCO workers at the Catholic church across the street from UMiami's campus. After the mass, STAND students greeted and encouraged a crowd of some 40 janitors and their families as Bishop Estavez spoke to several television news cameras, publicly calling on President Shalala to finally meet with the workers and come to an agreement.

With all this pressure building, President Shalala cancelled her speaking event scheduled for tomorrow (Monday) night that was supposed to celebrate the "MomentUM" fundraising campaign that recently passed $1 billion. Clearly, workers and students have really begun to disrupt Shalala's daily life until she decides to give in and pay up.

Working with STAND was a thoroughly energizing experience: these students will be, without a doubt, at the forefront of a major victory for living wages and the right to organize on campus this semester!

The heat is on in Miami!!
- Jack, jack(at)livingwageaction.org

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