The janitors at the University of Miami will vote to decide whether to authorize a strike on Sunday over unfair labor practices committed by UNICCO — the company hired by the university to manage the janitors who clean the campus. A strike on campus could come anytime after the vote.

Janitors at the campus earn as little as $6.40 an hour and are not provided with health insurance. University President Donna Shalala has come under fire by a growing coalition of students, faculty, religious leaders, and community activists for not doing more to head off a strike and ensure UNICCO respects workers' right to organize for a living wage and affordable health insurance free from intimidation.

Janitors at the University of Miami, most of whom are immigrants from Cuba, Haiti and South America, earn some of the lowest wages for campus janitors in the country. Unionized janitors who work for the same company in other cities earn higher wages and are provided health insurance. At Harvard University in Boston, UNICCO janitors earn between $13 and $14 an hour and have fully paid health insurance. But they didn't always. Janitors won the higher wages and benefits as the result of a two-year campaign on their behalf by students, the community, and SEIU.

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.

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.

For details on the strike, click here.

Related news items targeting the University of Miami can be found here and here.