Donna vs. Donna

Much has been made of a union's recent attempts to organize the University of Miami's custodial workers. There have been Miami Herald articles, protests, even TV reports.

For those of you not in the know, two big acronyms are fighting it out. The Service Employees International Union (SEIU), one of the nation's largest unions, has targeted 425 custodial workers (don't call them janitors!) and landscapers employed by a 56-year-old Cambridge Massachusetts company called UNICCO — University Cleaning Company — which has contracted to sweep up after all of those tidy college kids.

What's really interesting is who isn't talking: UM president and former U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Donna Shalala, who has spent much of her professional life advocating for the poor and underserved. She was recently named one of "America's Best Leaders" by U.S. News and World Report and the Center for Public Leadership at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government.

University officials say the matter is between the Cambridge firm and its employees, but Shalala won't comment. So New Times assembled a number of the UM president's past statements — and facts about the UNICCO workers. The hypocrisy — um, comparison — speaks for itself.

Shalala Says

"[The University will] pursue excellence in the campus life we build — excellence in the way we treat each other and the ties we build to the people of Miami and Florida."

Inaugural address as UM president September 4, 2001

"We will be a good neighbor and an active partner in this community's future.... That means we must be uniquely sensitive to the world we are a part of."

Same address

"We're not going to benefit financially. The most important thing for us was to be ethical."

Statement to student newspaper The Miami Hurricane regarding the Us beneficence to Hurricane Katrina victims in a story published September 6, 2005

"Make sure the most vulnerable people in our society have good quality [healthcare] and make sure it's seamless. Make sure ... it's culturally sensitive, and put our resources strategically into those places."

May 10, 2000 speech at the University of CaliforniaChico campus

"There's still 40 million Americans who don't have health insurance, and we need to do something about that."

January 16, 2001, on PBSs NewsHour with Jim Lehrer

In the United States — like others here —we are committed to eradicating poverty, to promoting full employment and building a society where every voice is welcome — and every opportunity is shared.

June 26, 2000, at the World Summit for Social Development in Geneva, Switzerland

Shalala Does

Below are facts about the UNICCO workers.

The University of Miami (which, according to its own Website, charges students about $40,000 annually including tuition, books, meals, and the required insurance) has contracted for cheap labor with UNICCO since 1996. The custodial workers and landscapers employed there are paid the second-least of any workers among the 195 schools surveyed.

— Based on an August 3, 2001 study published in the Chronicle of Higher Education

Most UNICCO workers at the University of Miami do not have health insurance.

— Survey of UNICCO workers by SEIU, confirmed by UNICCO spokesman Doug Bailey

UNICCO workers at UM are paid as low as $6.33 an hour, and pay averages $7.53 an hour.

— From pay stubs provided to SEIU by UNICCO workers and confirmed by UNICCO spokesman Doug Bailey

At Harvard University, unionized UNICCO workers earn between $13 and $14 an hour.

— From a copy of the contract between UNICCO and its Harvard employees, provided by SEIU Local 615

Many of the UNICCO workers who have no health insurance are employed by the university's teaching hospital.

— Interview with UNICCO employees

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Forrest Norman
Contact: Forrest Norman

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