Miami, FL—Workers say mounting frustration during several weeks of bargaining a contract renewal with DTZ Inc. led them to vote Saturday to authorize a strike in case they do not reach settlement on a fair contract.
Clara Vargas, a cleaner at Residential Hall and a member of the workers’ bargaining committee, said, DTZ, the contractor hired by the University of Miami to clean buildings and tend the lawns at the university, needs to respect the workers. The company employs about 410 workers on campus.
“All I can tell you is my co-workers and I are ready to go on strike if we do not get a fair contract,” Vargas said. “We want fair wages and affordable benefits.”
Following the vote, workers marched along US 1, a highway in front of UM. The janitors seven years ago won a contract after an iconic struggle that involved a strike that pitted the university against its students and faculty, who supported the workers. That fight, which led to the workers joining 32BJ SEIU, included a nine-week work-stoppage and a hunger strike. That contract, which was been renewed once, comes up for renewal again at midnight on August 31.
The renewal negotiation is taking place at the same time as another group of workers, 285 cafeteria employees, who work for Chartwells Dining Services, are negotiating a first contract after winning the right to join 32BJ SEIU in the spring. This group of workers earn as little as $10,000 a year.
UM is the largest private-sector employer in Miami—one of the poorest, most unequal yet most expensive cities in the nation. 32BJ SEIU Florida Director Eric Brakken said UM has a decision to make.
The university could have a big impact in many of Miami-Dade’s poorest neighborhoods, where UM’s nearly 700 low-wage workers live, by turning these service jobs into good jobs—with livable wages and benefits like affordable health care, paid sick days and vacations and personal days.
“Part of the reason there’s so much income disparity in Miami is that service industry is dominant in the economy,” he said. “Will the university be a leader in moving people onto a path for the middle class by ending poverty wages, or will it be an obstacle?”
With more than 145,000 members, 32BJ SEIU is the largest property service union in the country.