Saturday, March 18, 2006

University of Miami low-wage workers to get pay raises, benefits

UM's low-wage workers to get pay raises, benefits.

Maya Bell. Orlando Sentinel.March 18, 2006.
MIAMI -- University of Miami officials, buckling to mounting pressure to treat their bottom-rung workers better, is raising wages and offering health coverage for its maintenance staff and about 500 other contract employees.

The raises, which will increase the starting hourly wage for janitorial workers from $6.40 an hour to $8.55 an hour, are effective immediately; the heath coverage will be available in about 30 days, according to UM spokesman Jerry Lewis.

The decision by President Donna Shalala to authorize UM contractors who employ about 900 janitors, landscapers, food-service and other low-skilled laborers to increase the workers' hourly wages and benefits, comes three weeks after janitors went on strike and in response to an intense community campaign in their behalf.

Strike organizers applauded the university but said the walkout would continue.

For weeks, faculty members, students, clergy, alumni, donors and community leaders, embarrassed that Florida's richest private university paid its poorest workers subpoverty wages, pressed Shalala to pay UM's contract workers a living wage and offer health insurance.

Her acquiescence also came on the heels of a report by a working group that analyzed UM employment practice and market wages. The group, which Shalala appointed on the evening of a strike by the university's maintenance workers, reported this week that UM's contractors were paying their employees less than the going market rate, making it difficult to recruit and retain them, Lewis said.

"We have heard from the community and the message came in loud and clear: The community wanted us to do the right thing, and we did," he said.

Lewis said the university, which just raised an unprecedented $1 billion in private donations, had yet to cost out the increased wages and benefits.

Officials with the Service Employees International Union who are trying to unionize the maintenance workers lauded the new policy as a "great victory."

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