Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Yes We 'Cane!

Terrific news. UNICCO has agreed to stop preventing janitors at the University of Miami from forming a union. For more info check out the blogging live from the ground.
This fight required hunger striking, behind the scenes politics, leaders of three of the biggest four American unions appearing on the scene, and many students being arrested. This action involved clergy praying with janitors who hadn't eaten in days and workers speaking in churches and synagogues. It took two months, but the workers will now have healthcare, sick days, and safer working conditions. UNICCO still has a long way to go before it will be a safe company to work for but this is a step in the right direction.
Today is a proud day for the Hurricane Workers who keep the University of Miami looking lush.

By the way, Rabbi Goldberg F*ck you! I won't forget your double-crossing workers when they needed you. Enjoy Egypt.


At 5/02/2006 , Blogger Ruby K said...

preach it! Or, as my dad once relished telling me:

the translation is, literally, set his teeth on edge. you could even say, and you smack him in the mouth and say, it is because of what G-d did for me, when I, myself, went forth from Egypt.

At 5/02/2006 , Blogger Ruby K said...

ps: it's your blog, curse if you want to. I do.

At 5/02/2006 , Anonymous Jo said...

Before we curse Rabbi Goldberg, let's read his letter (which seems to object to the hunger-srike tactics rather than the cause) and respond substantively:

Hunger strike isn't a religious issue

I serve as the rabbi of the congregation across the street from the University of Miami. Every day I drive by the hunger strike sponsored by the Service Employees International Union. As the strike continues, more people ask me why, as a rabbi who strongly advocates social justice, I am not over there, showing my support. Or why, in the tradition of great social-justice rabbis such as Abraham Joshua Heschel, I do not denounce the university from the pulpit.

I was hoping to keep silent on this issue for an important reason, but the continuation of the strike makes such silence a luxury. I wanted to keep silent because I believe that low-paid workers in this country deserve better pay and benefits. And I feared that speaking out against the SEIU tactics would be seen as a lack of compassion for the workers. Nevertheless, I can be silent no longer.

The hunger-strike tactic is wrong, and making this issue into a religious issue is wrong, too. SEIU has every right to facilitate union membership on UM's campus. But when you make it a religious issue -- even a matter of life and death -- then you are mixing up religion and politics irresponsibly.

If you told me that the hunger strike across the street was for raising awareness of the slaughter in Darfur, then you could count me in. If you tell me it is for immigration rights in this country, then lead the way. But to use such dramatic tactics over what is a union procedural issue, then I must say that I resent such an approach.

And I resent it for a specific reason: The religious, social-justice community here is being patronized by the SEIU. It is as if it is saying that we are too nave to figure out the difference between social justice and union politics.

Well, maybe some of us are. But not me. I know the difference between working with a community and working the media. And I know that the long-term social-justice needs of our community are not served well by the cynical employment of hunger-strike tactics by the union. I also think the launching of the strike after UM had reached a deal with the workers is not good for the long-term cause of worker justice.

The bottom line: The custodians at UM and anywhere deserve decent pay and benefits. They -- and we -- don't deserve the irresponsible and cynical manipulation of people's emotions in the spectacle across the street.

RABBI EDWIN GOLDBERG, Temple Judea, Coral Gables

At 5/03/2006 , Blogger ZT said...


I find his letter to be a set of excuses for apathy. Goldberg's writing reminds me of a great Galbraith quip: "The modern conservative is engaged in man's oldest exercises in moral philosophy; that is, the search for a superior moral justification for selfishness".

Goldberg does not object to hunger fasts as a tactic as we can see that he would support them in response to the Darfuri genocide. He also claims to support wokers getting better pay and benefits. What he seems to be objecting to is union involvement.
He also seems to claim that since the sticking point is procedural it can't be religious.

I am happy to take his claims one at a time.

Golberg's Claim: hunger strikes are selectively acceptable.
Response: i agree with him that certain tactics are more or less useful in different contexts.

GC: hunger strikes are innapropriate in this context.
Response: if workers who make $6.40 an hour think it is worth hunger striking to raise awarness of their plight, i just don't see how goldberg can feel he knows more about the severity of the issue than they do. It must be hard for someone with a pension to connect to what it is like to work three jobs and not know how medical bills will be paid.
a second response(not invovling an ad hominem attack): the ability to live with dignity, to spend time with one's children, be able to take a sick day, getting to take any vacation at all, to make enough that you can subside on 50 hours of work a week, these are things worth fighting for. These are things worth fighting hard for. These are things worth hunger striking for if it will be effective.

GC: this isn't a religious issue.
R: Did Goldberg read the haggadah this past year? its pretty clear that judaism supports protecting the weakened, loving the neighbor, and acting with the memory that we were slaves in egypt.

GC: this is a union power play.
R: it is a union power play. it is a play to get workers power. the union becomes powerful through its workers becoming powerful. the union wants to be more present in florida. janitors in NY and Mass make close to twice as much as the ones at UM. it is not because it is harder to be a janitor. it is because the janitors in NY are mostly unionized. unions drive wages up, discrimination down, transparency up, workplace intimidation down, benefits up, being fired for being sick down. Union brought us the weekend, the 40-hour work week, modern pensions, sick days, vacation days, and countless other things. Workers need people working for them. Management has high priced attorneys who help them figure out how to reduce benefits, workers ought to have someone in their corner. Janitors get screwed unless they are in a union. the union doesn't fix anything, and sometimes has problems, but those problems are never worse than the ones they face without union protection.

GC: the issue of the strike was little more than a stupid procedural nuance.
R: The issue was ostensibly whether the the union would be formed by card-check or secret ballot. The problem was that since UNICCO is already under investigation by the NLRB an NLRB election can't be held until that is concluded. At that time UNICCO would have the right to make several motions that would dramatically slow the process, like the 4 years of foot dragging at Brown University that prevented the grad students from forming a union. So in general a "secret ballot" election would not result in a secret ballot election it would have probably invovled a half-decade of UNICCO making legal motions in bad faith. Aside from that issue, secret ballot elections feature more worker intimidation, threats of firing, forced anti-union meetings, etc. more info here: http://www.standum.org/htm/sitin/cardCheckVSSecretBallot.htm
the issue wasn't a petty procedural point but the very question of whether the workers would get the union that 70% already said they wanted.
That, Goldberg is not merely procedural. Worker justice is a religious issue. Justice is a religious issue. Freedom is a religious issue. The exodus is a religious experience and i am sorry you have never experienced it.

At 5/03/2006 , Anonymous Jo said...

I agree that you are right and he is wrong, and object to his letter on many of the same grounds.

What's it going to take for Jewish clergy to come to see that union politics *is* about how workers are treated, and that both issues are connected to what they understand as religious?

Probably not by telling them they haven't experienced the exodus and didn't read the haggadah. Probably by building upon the real religious values they already profess to hold.

At 5/03/2006 , Blogger Ruby K said...


Sometimes, a guy needs to vent, especially in the semi-anonymous veil of the blogosphere.

You are right. It's just awful disconcerting to hear a Rabbi who self defines as strong on social justice break his silence on a strike to denounce labor tactics. His calling the difference between card check and a nlrb election (or, as i like to call it, legalized intimidation) a union procedural issue belies a serious naivety when it comes to the low wage workers he says he supports.

It's true, it is our job to try to educate him and hopes he changes his mind. Sometimes, it's just really infuriating how much we have to organize the people that claim to be on our side.

At 5/04/2006 , Blogger ZT said...

jo, i agree, the rhetoric i chose would be useless for convincing goldberg, perhaps even counterproductive.
ruby-k, i agree with you to and thank you for your empathetic view of where i am coming from.
i am not sure golberg will ever be on the front lines in the way he was in an important national labor dispute which happened to be in his hometown. it didn't look good for the union, the janitors were down and he kicked them. eventually they won. the movement won, and the janitors won. its hard to want to be constructive. there is a defining moment when the workers ask you to throw your lot in with theirs and good people link arms. it is so frustrating when self identifying progressives turn down the call.
perhaps there will be more fights in coral gables, i hope next time golberg can be convinced, i am just to angry to do the convincing.


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