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Janitors Ask For SLAM’s Help

Four janitors involved in a strike at the University of Miami and several representatives of an international labor union urged the members of the Student Labor Action Movement (SLAM) to use their leverage as Harvard students to help the Miami workers at an event at 45 Mt. Auburn Street this Saturday.

More than 100 Miami janitors have been striking for six weeks and 10 have been on a six day hunger strike to protest unfair working conditions and low wages. The janitors are employed by UNICCO Service Company, one of the nation’s largest private facilities maintenance companies. Harvard outsources much of its janitorial work to UNICCO.

The janitors are working with the Service Employee International Union (SEIU), which helped janitors at Harvard achieve a living wage in 2002 and last semester negotiated a $5 per hour pay rise.

SEIU National Communications Coordinator Renee Asher said in a phone-call to the SLAM members and Miami janitors that Harvard students have a unique ability to influence Miami President Donna E. Shalala to act. Citing rumors that Shalala might be in the running for the vacant Harvard presidency, Asher pushed students to use their opportunity to speak to Derek C. Bok about the presidential search to express their opinions on Shalala’s actions in Miami.

“We must make it very clear that it will be very hard for Donna Shalala to support UNICCO’s behavior,” Asher said.

She also urged students to take part in a one day hunger strike tomorrow, as a sign of solidarity with the striking UNICCO workers in Miami.

Student protestors in Miami scored a victory for janitors last week after occupying the university’s admissions office and demanding—in the face of possible arrests and expulsions, according to Asher—a meeting with Shalala. After cutting off the building’s air conditioning and water, Shalala agreed to sit down and meet with UNICCO, janitors, SEIU, and students.

The janitors who spoke to SLAM said they were dismayed that Shalala had held only two meetings and that no action has yet been taken by the university to quell labor unrest.

Asher, though, recognized that change does not come overnight. “Folks here are prepared for a long fight,” she said. “Every week that goes by, the price [Shelala must pay for supporting UNICCO] gets higher.”

—Staff writer Benjamin L. Weintraub can be reached at bweintr@fas.harvard.edu.
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