Judge Slaps Nova for Labor Violations

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A labor judge ruled this week that Nova Southeastern University went to unlawful extremes to quash an effort by the school's custodial contractors to unionize. Among the findings by Administrative Law Judge John H. West: that supervisors intimidated employees of a custodial services firm after they circulated union literature without the university's permission.

Starting in August 2006 employees of Unicco, the contractor which for 12 years handled custodial work for Nova, were warned by Nova staff to stop organizing workers, even though those organizers were doing so on their own time.

The following month, Unicco's contract was put out for bid. Despite the workers' sparkling track record of service at the university, Unicco lost the contract to other companies, and its workers were laid off. A great many of those Unicco workers were not re-hired by the new contractor, as is customary.

One of those laid-off workers who was active with the union, Jose Sanchez, testified about an exchange he had with Tony Todaro, Nova's director of physical plant.

Sanchez's said that in February 2007 he asked Todaro about about getting work with the new contractor. Sanchez recalled Todaro asking him whether he could get paid for picketing, before telling him, dismissively, to call back in three months about employment. In the judge's opinion Todaro's behavior was "coercive" and "that Todaro was in effect telling Sanchez you made your bed now go sleep in it; you supported the union now go and now go and see if the union will pay you to go on the line."

Todaro himself testified that he didn't remember the conversation, but the judge found that "Todaro is not a credible witness," based on other conflicting testimony.

For the workers and the Service Employees International Union that argued their case, the judge's ruling is a moral victory, but hardly a tactical one. Eugenio Villasante communications manager for SEIU Local 32BJ, says that the penalty doesn't fit the crime. As a consequence of its union-busting Nova was merely told to stop union-busting, to nix anti-union policies and to remove the disciplinary measures it took against employees seeking to organize. The consequences for workers who sought to organize: unemployment. (Villasante says a great many of the workers who lost their job two years ago due to the conflict remain unemployed today.)

Which is why, to organized labor, the case is an example of the need to give national labor law some teeth. Legislation to that effect has already been introduced: The Employee Free Choice Act would, among other things, allow the NLRB to impose $20,000 fine for each violation of labor law by an employer.

For more on the workers' individual stories, check out this New Times feature from June 2007.

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