(Coral Gables)-With classes at University of Miami about to start and the janitor’s contract deadline fast-approaching, janitors and groundskeepers—members of 32BJ SEIU—voted unanimously to strike if no agreement is reached by the August 31 contract expiration.
The hardworking janitors and groundskeepers do some of the most back-breaking and dirtiest jobs on campus, including cleaning the dorms, locker rooms, the campus morgue and laboratories, as well as working in the hot Florida sun to maintain the campuses’ gardens and grounds. The janitors are also responsible for cleaning and sanitizing UM’s Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center.
“It’s especially important for cancer patients, who often have compromised immune systems, to be in sanitary environments,” said Eliezer Garcia, skilled cleaner at the Sylvester Center. “I am very proud of the work that I do to keep the clinic clean for them and their families. All we’re asking for are wage increases that accurately reflect our contributions to the university. It’s the fair thing to do.”
Contract talks between the 32BJ SEIU bargaining committee and the University of Miami’s cleaning contractor, GCA Services have been ongoing since July 13. Despite more than a $1 billion in revenues for for GCA—owned by a Goldman Sachs Group subsidiary—GCA is proposing wage increases of just pennies, while shifting health care costs onto workers.
The janitors and cleaners earn an average of $12.63, however, a full 28% are earning at or less than the federal poverty line of $11.68 an hour for a family of four.
“I have worked here for more than 13 years. I am part of the community,” said Victoria Carbajal, skilled cleaner. “I even clean the building where the office of the University’s President is housed. Our contributions are important and we are worth much more than the pennies that GCA is offering us. We are here today to say, we are ready to strike!”
This year marks the 10th anniversary of the janitor’s successful fight to unionize, which included a 17-day hunger strike and was considered a historic victory for labor in a right to work state. At the time, the UM custodial workers were earning just $6.30 an hour and were ranked second to lowest among almost 200 universities and colleges across the country, according to a 1999 study by the Chronicle of Higher Education.
Clara Vargas, a skilled cleaner who participated in the 17-day hunger strike said, “We fought hard for our union and were able to win raises, excellent health insurance, and good benefits. We want to go forward, not backwards. With the cost of housing, childcare, medicine, and transportation going up every year in Florida, it is difficult to make ends meet on what we are earning. We perform some of the hardest on campus—we deserve to be justly compensated.”
With 145,000 members in eleven states and Washington, D.C, 32BJ SEIU is the largest property service workers union in the country.