Stew Lilker’s

Columbia County Observer

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University of Miami Janitors and Landscapers Vote to Strike: It's about a living wage

MIAMI, FL – On Saturday, janitors and landscapers at the University of Miami authorized a strike if an agreement on wages and benefits cannot be reached by September 1. This decision comes seven years after janitors at the university staged a historic nine-week strike over wages and working conditions.

According to Eric Brakken, Florida director of the union that represents the workers, 32BJ SEIU, improving wages for the more than 400 workers involved is needed to sustain them in the high-cost city.

"This is how inequality happens in our city, is workers not earning nearly enough of what it takes to live here, and that's what this is all about," Brakken declared.

Union photo of Erick Brakken

The janitors are employees of DTZ Janitorial Service as well as members of 32BJ SEIU. The company's current proposal would pay employees two cents more an hour. Brakken said that won't be enough to bring them up to a living wage, which, in the Miami area, is a little more than $12 an hour.

Clara Vargas is an immigrant from Cuba and works as a janitor in the residence halls. She and her co-workers believe now is the time to take a stand.

"Everybody's ready," she said. "If we cannot get better salaries and better benefits in this contract, everybody's ready to go to the strike."

The September 1st strike would come just days after the start of the University's fall semester. Brakken said that while it's the employees at the University of Miami who are taking a stand, there are also other universities in Florida not paying a living wage.

"These are the jobs that make up the bulk of our economy down here," the union official stated. "If we are to have the middle class, then these jobs have to become jobs that can sustain families."

During the 2006 strike, over 100 faculty members held classes off campus to show support for their fellow employees.

Photos and links added by the Observer

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