CORAL GABLES, Fla. — As of April 19, striking University of Miami janitors were into the 16th day of their hunger strike. Student hunger strikers were on day eight.
The janitors and their supporters are calling for a living wage, health care and recognition of the janitors’ card-check decision to be represented by the Service Employees International Union.
The janitors have been camped out in Freedom City, a tent city under the Metro Rail near the main entrance to UM. They have been camped there through rainstorms, cold and windy nights, and days of searing heat. Students join them in the evening, after their classes.
Not surprisingly, some of the hunger strikers have fallen into health crises. So far five janitors and one student have been rushed to the hospital. Five janitors and four students vow to continue their hunger strike until victory.
Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Alvarez visited the hunger strikers, voicing his respect for their values and courage, and offering to mediate talks.
And how does the University of Miami respond? President Donna Shalala continues to hide behind her secretaries and travels while sending out communiqués filled with distortions and, at best, half-truths, to the university community and the op-ed page of the Miami Herald.
The same deceptions have been sent to alumni, mostly verbatim, over someone else’s name. This aggressive public relations campaign goes on non-stop, instead of conducting honest negotiations between the janitors and SEIU, UM, and UNICCO (the contract employer). Meanwhile, low-income workers and student allies are risking their health and their lives for justice.
The activists are no longer going hungry alone. Other students, faculty, peace and justice activists, and clergy are now taking “fasting shifts,” committing to two- and three-day fasts, dawn-to-dusk fasts, and other pledges to participate. Freedom City is growing as some of these fasters have also decided to camp out there at night.
This struggle will be won, because it must. The UM janitors are fighting for nothing less than the heart and soul of South Florida. Their stand for workers’ rights is changing the face of this community; there can be no more “business as usual.” You can follow this struggle at www.seiu11.org or www.picketline.blogspot.com. Si, se puede!