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March 12, 2006

PRESS RELEASE - SOLIDARITY WITH U. MIAMI WORKERS

We, at Batay Ouvriye, received the invitation to a reception in honor of University of Miami President Donna Shalala and Author Dr. Laurie Garrett for a discussion about Haiti, its health care programs and problems. We consider this a worthy activity. We wish to take the occasion to point out, however, that while Mrs. Shalala is in this way demonstrating her concrete concerns for the health situation in Haiti, she is at the same time putting Haitian and many other workers on the line at the University she heads concerning the same basic needs!

“As Miami-Dade's largest single employer, the University of Miami has a special obligation to be a leader in the fight against poverty. Yet, the university's policies have actually increased Miami-Dade's poverty rate. In an already poor city, janitors at the University of Miami are some of the poorest, earning as little as $13,104 a year, less than half the county median, which means as little as $6.40 an hour without employer-paid health insurance”. According to the Service Employees International Union, UM janitors, most of whom are immigrants from South America, Cuba and Haiti earn some of the lowest wages for campus janitors in the United States.

“Wages are low, and benefits almost nonexistent for campus janitors, because cleaning contractors have to bid the work. Responsible contractors who pay higher wages and provide affordable health benefits can not possibly compete for work with contractors who do not. That is why university presidents around the country have made it a priority to only hire responsible contractors for their campuses. The result has been for contractors to bid on the quality of their work, rather than driving wages and benefits down. University President Donna Shalala has been unwilling to commit the university to funding higher wages and affordable health insurance for the UNICCO janitors. UNICCO embarked on a vicious anti-union campaign including threats and interrogation after janitors on the campus started organizing with Local 11 for better wages, benefits, and respect on the job.

Faced with all of this, on February 1, 2006 the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) issued a formal complaint against UNICCO and on February 26th, janitors voted overwhelmingly to authorize strike at the University of Miami.”

Consequently, as we denounce these double standards, we exhort Mrs. Shalala to positively respond to the janitors’ demands at the University of Miami, including those concerning health care. We extend our solidarity to these workers repressed and in struggle and, at the same time, urge the Haitian public in general to similarly support this just cause by urging Mrs. Shalala to do the right thing in this situation.

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