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Dirty war by UCSD against protesting workers?

by Guy Berliner Sunday, Jun. 03, 2001 at 9:23 AM

A San Diego Union-Tribune article details evidence of attempted government intimidation campaign against low-wage workers attempting to organize at UCSD, instigated by university administration

A thorough investigation of the conduct of UCSD

officials in their treatment of low-wage service workers

attempting to exercise their legally protected rights

to organize is in order. First came allegations that

one worker, Alejandra Rodriguez, was fired without

cause for her efforts to organize her coworkers. Now

the following report indicates that the university officials

have attempted to threaten workers with INS investigations.

The INS has so far rejected the administration's attempts

to enlist its assistance in the effort to suppress the workers.


UCSD calls INS in dispute with union over janitors

By Leonel Sanchez


June 2, 2001

The latest attempt by a labor union to raise the wages of

San Diego County janitors was tested at UCSD yesterday

when the university said it had called the Immigration

and Naturalization Service about a labor dispute on campus.

The local janitorial work force, like those in many urban

cities, is made up largely of Latino immigrants, including

undocumented workers. Union organizers say the threat of

INS interference has been used in the past to discourage

workers from unionizing or striking.

Some of UCSD's janitors are unionized. The university

hires others through a subcontractor.

The university's announcement came as more than 200

students and labor activists marched and blocked traffic

near the La Jolla campus for 30 minutes to draw attention

to the dispute.

San Diego police arrested 15 of the protesters without

incident after they refused to leave a busy intersection

near La Jolla Villa Drive. They were booked into county


The union expected the arrests, because the demonstration

was part of its strategy of civil disobedience. But the

union didn't expect the INS to be brought into the mix.

The Service Employees International Union, Local 2028, has

campaigned intensely for more than a year to boost the pay

of low-earning janitors throughout the county. But union

leader Mike Wilzoch said that yesterday was the first time

immigration became part of the issue.

The union settled two labor disputes last year that raised

the pay of about 1,300 janitors, including 300 who also

received health benefits. Their wages are usually above

but below an hour.

At UCSD the union is demanding a "living wage" of .24

for about 100 non-unionized janitors. Most of them earn

about .40 an hour, Wilzoch said.

The union is also asking for health benefits, sick pay,

the reinstatement of a fired janitor and the opportunity

to unionize the janitors.

Wilzoch was shocked when he learned about the university's

announcement but said he didn't believe the INS would

intervene in a labor issue.

An INS spokeswoman said Wilzoch was right.

The federal agency has a long-standing policy of "remaining

neutral whenever there is a union labor dispute," said

INS spokeswoman Lauren Mack.

"We prefer to wait until a dispute is resolved and worked

out before we would take any action," she said.

She said that as of yesterday the INS hadn't been notified

about an immigration problem at UCSD.

In the statement released yesterday, UCSD said it was

investigating its janitorial subcontractor to determine

whether it was complying to state minimum wage and federal

immigration laws.

The university said it had "notified the INS" about

allegations of "immigration control violations" involving

the subcontractor, Bergenson's Property Services.

Bergenson's president, Aram Minasian, couldn't be reached

for comment last night, but university spokeswoman Dolores

Davies said the company has denied the charges.

The company's contract expires in September and the

university said it's not sure it will continue to

subcontract for janitors.

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