Few Janitors Eager to Join Strike at MIA

Mar. 15--The University of Miami janitors' strike expansion to Miami International Airport on Tuesday drew a tepid response from workers there, with most employees showing up for work.

The UM contract workers and the Service Employees International Union trying to organize them set up a picket line at the airport in hopes that the other 258 employees of the contractor, Unicco Service Co., would not cross in support for the UM cause. The union said it will not set up a picket line at MIA today.

The UM workers want better wages, healthcare benefits and recognition of representation by SEIU. Some janitors have been on strike at the university's main and medical center campus for three weeks.

The airport workers are already unionized by the International Brotherhood of Teamsters.

Unicco spokesman Doug Bailey said that 10 workers did not show up for work and were seen at the picket lines outside. Another five called in sick, he added.

A Teamsters representative said 30 employees did not work. Local 769 Secretary-Treasurer Josh Zivalich attributed the low turnout to misinformation spread by Unicco.

"They've been leading people to believe that they shouldn't cross the picket line," Zivalich said members had told him. "It's our belief that they have the right to honor that picket line."

Unicco's Bailey said that while workers had been told the firm would rather workers didn't honor the picket line, "We certainly stressed it was their right to do so."

At the airport Tuesday afternoon, many were on the job, cleaning bathrooms and other parts of the airport in their blue Unicco uniforms. Several workers, who asked not to be named, said they were scared of what might happen if they didn't show up for work.

But worker Avena Louis-Jordain said there was also confusion about whether the picket line would be created. She called the Teamsters office in the morning to see what was going on, but never got a call back, so went to work as scheduled.

She understands the UM workers' fight, she said.

"Of course I support them," said Louis-Jordain, who has worked at the airport for 13 years and makes $9.81 an hour. "Life is very hard. What's $6.80 [an hour] going to do?"