According to an article in The Washington Times, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) set a goal to organize 15,000 janitors in 2006. To help meet this achievement would be the cooperation of the University of Miami, which employs about 480 janitors. With a current member base of 1.8 million, the SEIU anticipates that working with the University of Miami will be exactly what is needed to reach the additional 20,000 janitors in the metropolitan area.

Efforts in Miami and Houston also are significant because many janitors there are immigrants, according to the article. The SEIU and other unions in the breakaway Change to Win Federation, which formed last year, have said organizing immigrant workers is important if the labor movement expects to grow. The SEIU recently joined the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and Laborers International Union to press Congress to pass immigration reform that legalizes the estimated 11 million illegal aliens in the country.

SEIU is also targeting Miami in an effort to increase wages from the current average of $7.53 an hour with no employee-sponsored health care. University officials have little to say because the janitors are actually employed by the Boston-based cleaning firm Unicco Services Co., whose employees working at Harvard University are making an average of $13 to $14 an hour.

Unicco spokespeople comment that the company will hold a National Labor Relations Board-sponsored election to determine whether University of Miami janitors join the union, but SEIU hopes to persuade the company to let workers join the union if a majority of janitors sign cards indicating they want union representation.

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Over the last few months, the University of Miami has received significant press because of its treatment towards its janitors. On December 22nd, CleanLink reported on multiple safety violations that had threatened the health of various janitors. It was determined that the lack of training and the use of dangerous chemicals resulted in health problems for more than half of the 425 janitors.

Poor working conditions also caught the attention of the student-run organization STAND (Students Toward a New Democracy), as reported on CleanLink on December 20. According to the article, STAND is putting unprecedented pressure on University officials to improve conditions for the janitors, who struggle with low wages and no health insurance.