Nova Southeastern Ruling: Workers Don't Necessarily Feel Labor's Victory

Categories: Crime
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Physical plant workers fought for a living wage.
​Last week, the Pulp reported on a recent federal ruling that slammed Nova Southeastern University for illegal union busting. 

While the National Labor Relation Board's Aug. 26 decision -- stemming from a four-year legal battle between the private college and the Service Employees International Union's South Florida locals -- is a triumph for area labor advocates, it might not mean too much for the some 100 workers who were left jobless because of their union activity.

Problems began for Nova's physical plant staff in August 2006.

Then, a group of former custodial workers for Unicco -- the janitorial firm contracted by Nova at the time -- was harassed by college higher-ups when they tried to organize. 

Steve McGonigle, a former painting supervisor, got flak for passing out union pamphlets in his off time. And when Jose Sanchez asked Tony Todaro, Nova's director of physical plant, about re-employment, he was asked whether he could get paid for picketing and was "sarcastically" told to check back in a few months, according to court documents. 

Despite Unicco's virtually perfect service record, Nova dropped the company shortly after union activity began, hiring another janitorial services company instead of renewing Unicco's contract. The new firm re-hired many of the Unicco workers who had no affiliation to the SEIU. Many of the SEIU-related workers were not rehired, because of their union activity

As part of the National Labor Relation Board's decision, Nova must now post fliers around the campus, informing workers of their right to organize. 

But nothing in that decision mandates that the workers get re-hired or get back pay. 

The Pulp had a chance to catch up with McGonigle, who was a main player in the labor battle. Throughout the coming weeks, the Pulp will continue to reach out to workers involved in this case, as many are still said to be jobless. 

McGonigle, as has been widely reported, had no reason to take up the fight for worker's rights at Nova -- and would actually stand to lose money by doing so. (If the union did form on campus, he'd actually have to spend a good chunk of his salary on dues.) 

McGonigle made a lot of money as a supervisor, and had health insurance through his wife's job. He had a nice life -- a $17 an hour job, two houses and a truck, as Michael Mayo first reported in 2009. 

But he didn't think that workers should be barred from drinking out of water fountains or forced to eat lunch outside, under the hot sun, instead of within air conditioned buildings. He told the Pulp that he wanted Nova to let workers go to the campus clinic at a discounted rate -- since they weren't receiving health insurance.

"I felt that Nova could have done the right thing," he told the Pulp. "But they fought us tooth and nail." 

That kind of idealism ultimately led to McGonigle's joblessness and bankruptcy. McGonigle was hired by SEIU as an organizer, but was laid off when the economy took a tailspin. 

He says that he's dismayed: He never got a call from the union letting him know about the ruling, and only learned about it, in fact, from reading about it online last week. 

"I know it's not the union's job to support us financially. I'm not looking for anything materialistic, but how about being humanitarian and saying: 'Hey, how are you doing?'"

McGonigle still tries to keep in contact with some of the displaced workers. He says that some have questioned whether they should have gotten involved in organization efforts. 

"Both myself and a lot of people suffered because of this," he said.

Eugenio Villasante, of SEIU Local 32 BJ, maintains that the union has done a lot for those affected by the 2006 events.

"The union has stood by these workers in their long and continuing fight by providing legal assistance and organizing a job fair where about a quarter of the workers found new jobs. In addition, with the help of a local church, the union raised more than $100,000 in assistance to workers." 

Also, he says, the SEIU is providing legal assistance on another Nova case, involving those formerly employed by another contractor. 

In this case, the labor board ruled in favor of the workers, saying their jobs had to be reinstated with back pay and that their right to organize be recognized. Their employer has appealed the ruling, according to Villasante. 

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Steven McGonigle
Steven McGonigle

Take a look at the high paying salaries that are being paid to the people that work for SEIU 32BJ

These high salaries are one of the things that is wrong with Unions today.  I wonder what the average salary of the workers they represent are?  I know in Florida in can't be over 13/hr, (janitors and landscapers) and Eric Brakken is making 80K.  How is that fair to the workers he represents?  They are the ones paying his inflated salary.

Anthony Chase
Anthony Chase

Thanks again to Victoria - and to Irma for noticing.  The list of people paying a price for Nova's illegal conduct is long and the University, remarkably, does not even seem to care where the bill is delivered, even when it is to NSU itself.  The amount of money Nova lost in its renegotiation of the library budget with its partner, Broward County, inevitably reflected a simple fact: the University treated the County with contempt rather than equinimity or even grace during the labor conflict. The University administration embarrassed everyone in South Florida who had ever given the school a dime or worked there rather than somewhere that paid better out of public spirit, a commitment to shared public values, something Nova has not understood since the days of Abe Fishler and Ovid Lewis

Perhaps this is not too much to ask: Could The New Times report in its next issue whether or not Nova Southeastern University obeyed the order of the National Labor Relations Board and posted the required notices?  Keep in mind, these notices simply inform workers of their rights under the law.  The Board has ordered - just a couple weeks ago - that every private employer in the USA covered by the NLRA must post similar information.  It is about the same as posting copies of the U.S. Constitution (assuming you agree THAT is law) in high school classrooms.

Of course NSU can disagree with an administrative law judge in Atlanta or the NLRB in Washington or the Supreme Court, for that matter.  NSU can appeal any law it doesn't like whenefver it wishes.  But in the meantime, during the pendancy of its appeal, it ought to obey the law.

A Nova bigwig once told me that  "reasonable minds can differ" and that is true enough.  But President John F. Kennedy, the night he sent U.S. Marshals into Oxford , Mississippi, to help guarantee that that a young man, who happened to be African American, was registered at the Univ. of Mississippi in the next few days, said this on national TV: "Americans, in short, are free to disagree with the law but not disobey it." Nova's president is a former city manager, not a lawyer, but Kennedy spoke to all Americans when he spoke of the importance of obeying the law.

The New Times, Sun Sentinel and Miami Herald should all send reporters to NSU's campus next week and and ask one of the 35 tenured faculty members in the law school if the notices have been posted and if they say what the NLRB has asked.  That's the way it is supposed to work in the United States, even in Nova's strange little universe.  If tenured faculty members tell you that they cannot answer your questions because they are afraid, ask them"of what?"

Anthony Chase, Fort Lauderdale


So sad, union goons don't get paid a bunch of money after trying to extort it.  My heart breaks.  If you don't like the working conditions or pay of your job, get another one.  DUH!

Steven McGonigle
Steven McGonigle

First it amazes me that Eugenio Villasante, of SEIU Local 32 BJ, the Assistant Director of Communications has no idea what is going on with these cases. Mr. Villasante states the following: "SEIU is providing legal assistance on another Nova case, involving those formerly employed by another contractor. In this case, the labor board ruled in favor of the workers, saying their jobs had to be reinstated with back pay and that their right to organize be recognized. Their employer has appealed the ruling".

If he did his job he would have realized that on August 27th, the NLRB issued a rulling on the appeal and, like in my case, nothing monetarily is being awarded to the employees.

In both of these cases I am sure SEIU's legal fees will be reimbursed as there was some fault found with both Nova and TCB Systems side, and I believe the only ones getting anything out of both of these cases is the Union, SEIU. 

I was at the job fair assisting workers in filling out applications and for Mr. Villasante to say a quarter of the workers were hired is a blatant lie.  A few were, but to say more than 25 people were hired at this job fair is a lie.  Mr. Villasante was never at any event that involved these workers until these cases went to trial at the NLRB. 

In regards to the monies that were raised, for the workers, they had to earn it by working for SEIU.  I know this because I was the one driving them around in a van when I worked for SEIU.

I remember sitting in a meeting at SEIU's office in Miami Beach, prior to the Thanksgiving that followed these workers losing their jobs.  I asked what the Union was going to do for these workers?  I was told to choose the 25 most neediest and SEIU sent them a $25.00 gift certificate to Publix.  I remember receiving numerous calls from workers saying they felt insulted by this, I believe they felt this way because of the way SEIU turned their backs on these workers.  As I told Victoria, the author of this article, since I was laid off by SEIU I have never received a phone call from anyone at SEIU asking how I was doing and I know the same goes for many, many of the other workers.

In closing I would like to point out that Eric Brakken, who was in charge of this campaign, and the organizers that worked it were paid big salaries, and sacrificed nothing.  The only ones that did any sacrificing were the workers, the only ones that lost anything was the workers, my feelings about Unions has changed dramatically since my experience with SEIU and it was SEIU's actions after all that was said in done, that helped form these opinions.  I, to this day, do not believe it was SEIU's responsibility to financially support these workers but I do believe, and did expect, SEIU to be more humanitarian by making phone calls to these workers every once in a while to see how they are doing.  I am still waiting for that phone call, 3 years later.  And they try to convince you that they care, what do you think? 

Frank Talk
Frank Talk

This is why we need a stronger Labor Board with tougher laws to protect the rights of workers like McGonigle. Right now, the Board is nothing more than a paper tiger. The boss needs to feel some real pain in the pocket book, or jail time, when caught violating the rights of workers. 


Another great article by Victoria! 

Frank Talk
Frank Talk

And the President of Nova makes a cool $565,751 a year. And the President of UNICCO makes a cool $309,000 a year. How is that fair to the employees that work for Nova and UNICCO?

Frank Talk
Frank Talk

Union Facts is a right-wing group whose main goal is to destroy unions in America, in essence, to destroy what little freedom American workers have on the job. I would be very careful on what data you pull and use from them. Take them with a grain of salt.

What I don't understand is why you attack SEIU as the only bad guy here? What about UNICCO and Nova? How come you don't spend as many words attacking them as you do SEIU?

It wasn't SEIU that fired you and broke the law???? Was it????

Steven McGonigle
Steven McGonigle

It wouldn't surprise me if they appeal this.  You mentioned the Library/County Commision relationship and I had alot to do with that.  When I discovered what the relationship was and the figures that NSU had submitted to the County in regards to usage, students/Faculty vs. public, having been in there on a daily basis, I knew the figures were fictitious.  I contacted the Head of the library system in Broward and also spoke with the County Auditor and the results were an Audit being done at the library and it was found that Nova had destroyed records, that they were not suppose to and the figures were found to be inflated.  The outcome was that the taxpayers of Broward saved over 1.2 million dollars.  I enjoyed going to the commission meetings, speaking and watching Nova trying to squirm out of this one.  I know this went 9 miles up their butt.

I also enjoyed sitting on the Broward County Educational Facility Authority, meeting at NSU, the Executive Director being NSU's CFO.  This is the Board NSU went to to get bonds for all the contruction that they have done, we were the approval authority.  I no longer sit on this Board as I found that no one would listen to me.  I argued that NSU should be doing more to raise their standing from a 4th tier university(undergrad and law) to a 3rd or 2nd tier, but they were more concerned to build rather than provide a better education.  Also, being in the top 10, in the country, in student debt was a concern to me.  I felt their focus was not where it should be.  My feeling is that most of these members of this Board were in NSU's back pocket.  I enjoyed, though. Ferrero and Hanbury knowing I was in the Presidential dining room meeting on wether or not to issue bonds to NSU.  I never voted in favor of these bonds being issued.



I know I haven't heard from them yet, and the Board's order was that they were suppose to tell UNICCO to remove, from my record, the displinary notices that I had received and then contact me letting me know that they have done that.  I'm still waiting to hear from them.


After your experiences, what is your current opinion on unions in general and specifically of how they operate in this day and age? What changes would you make if given the magic wand? What are some of the worst things about SEIU? Some of the best things? Overall, are workers helped or hindered by its current existence?Thank you for your insight and good luck with your plight.

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