ST. LOUIS – Students at Washington University here are demanding the return of 36 Nicaraguan custodial and maintenance workers who were forced to leave the country after their contract with G&G Building Services was terminated in October 2003.

The Nicaraguan workers were on a 10-month work visa originally scheduled to end in May.

Outraged students formed the Student Worker Alliance (SWA). They claim that Washington University’s and G&G’s termination of the Nicaraguan employees is unacceptable. And they are building a community, religious and labor coalition intent on directing pressure towards the campus administration and the new building service contractor, Top Care, in hopes of facilitating the workers’ return. Top Care has agreed to hire all the workers and bring them back from Nicaragua, but has yet carry out its promise.

The University administration claims that employment of the Nicaraguans is out of their hands. But Sergio Salmeron, a Washington University student and member of SWA, believes “they are just passing the buck. Washington University is the customer. If they tell Top Care to settle things and bring the workers back they will.” Washington University is one of the wealthiest universities in the country with over $1 billion in annual revenue.

Charlie Hatcher, director of organizing for SEIU Local 1 Missouri Division which represented the G&G employees, said, “If we let Top Care get away with backing down on their commitments, it will send a message to other contractors that it is okay to treat people this way. We can’t let that happen.”

As a result of SWA’s campaign, the campus chancellor has formed a task force to investigate issues of subcontracting. Other service employees received an unscheduled $1 an hour raise on top of their union-negotiated regular wage increase. According to SWA and SEIU, “the infrastructure is in place to raise all kinds of hell. If the campus administration and Top Care don’t fulfill their obligations to these workers we will have to take things to the next level.”

On April 2, during the Student Labor Action Project “Week of Action,” SWA, Jobs with Justice, SEIU, and other coalition partners will hold a rally at Washington University demanding the return of the Nicaraguan service employees and living wages for all campus employees.

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