Nova to Workers: Drop Dead

Janitors go jobless for months, and students don't give a damn

Alisha VanHoose and Paul Saneaux reported that incident for The Current, Nova´s student paper. The university´s public affairs director, Dave Dawson, told VanHoose at the time that Sacharow was ¨not a current student.¨ The registrar´s office said otherwise.

Sacharow is reluctant to comment about it now, citing the requirements he still needs for an advanced degree from Nova. But he says he´s alarmed by the lack of social responsibility on campus. ¨While we need to be concerned about the school, I´m more concerned about the student body. How we treat the least among us says the most about who we are.¨

Laid-off Nova landscaper Rosemarie Fleuranvil and SEIU organizer Hiram Ruiz.
Amy Guthrie
Laid-off Nova landscaper Rosemarie Fleuranvil and SEIU organizer Hiram Ruiz.


In early May, when New Times first requested interviews to discuss the union battle and its effect on the school´s image, Nova Public Affairs Director Dave Dawson dismissed the petition.

¨I´m not aware that it´s a contemporary issue. I understand that labor unions want to organize, which is how they get dues and how they get paid -- I´m sure it´s an issue with them,¨ Dawson said before erupting into laughter.

At that point, former employees like Rosario López, María Vega, and Wanda Rodríguez were going on three months collecting unemployment.

Dawson also shrugged off dozens of complaints that have been filed with the National Labor Relations Board. ¨I read one of the filings on behalf of one of the workers, who is now working for the SEIU, so ha ha, ha ha it´s a little bit incestuous. I don´t know what to make of that

The employee Dawson was referring to is Steve McGonigle, formerly a full-time painter at the school.

Dawson continued: ¨It´s just not something that I´m tracking on a daily basis or that I´m even aware is still out there. If the union wants to organize workers, they certainly have the right to do that.¨

Dawson concluded that arranging for university President Ferrero or anyone else affiliated with Nova to comment further on the displacement of low-income workers would be unwise. ¨Then what we´re doing is keeping something alive that doesn´t deserve to be -- that´s dying its own natural death when there isn´t any new news for the New Times or anybody else.¨

Later that week, just as Nova students were getting ready to graduate, the union staged a rally outside Nova´s Health Professions Division. A huge inflatable rat, its claws raised and eyes blood red, towered over the demonstrators at the intersection of SW 36th Street and University Drive.

The three-dozen protesters were a mix of former employees and union activists. Most wore dark-purple SEIU T-shirts. Many of their chants were variations of popular sports songs such as the ¨Olé, Olé, Olé , Olé¨ sung at soccer games in Latin America. The message piped through megaphones switched among Creole, English, and Spanish. Occasionally, the group broke into dance. Many of the displaced workers speak limited English, so mixing in their languages is critical if the union wants to make them feel involved and keep up morale.

Two white third-year dental students in baby-blue scrubs stopped to watch the spectacle. Once they figured out what all the noise was about, one of the young men said, ¨Sounds right up Nova´s alley to me -- this school is screwing everyone.¨ Then he launched into a tirade about how his annual tuition has skyrocketed $10,000 in three years, to $40,000, even as the program gets more crowded. Aspiring dentists were told at the outset of their studies that 100 students would compete for 85 clinical study chairs, he said. Instead, his class is up to 125. Without time in the chair, the dental students can´t get the practice they need to graduate. But the young men would not give even their first names or hometowns because they fear retribution. ¨They would kick us out instantly, and it wouldn´t be based on this -- it would be based on something totally obscure,¨ one explained.

Nearby, three young black women dressed in turquoise scrubs asked what all the ruckus was about. Told that the workers tried to unionize so they could win concessions like health insurance only to lose their jobs, the cluster of nursing students expressed concern. Everyone should have health coverage, they agreed. The women could end up SEIU members themselves, as the union represents 13,000 nurses and other health-care workers in Florida.

Hiram Ruiz, political director for SEIU Local 11, is the heart and soul of the Nova campaign. A white beard and extra pounds around his midsection combine with a jolly bearing to give Ruiz a Santa Claus-like persona. But he was distraught to hear that students watching the rally had no clue what it was about. ¨We´ve been at it for a year!¨ he exclaimed, throwing his arms up.

The giant-rat rally was just one dart the union hurled at Nova that week. After detecting that the university was blocking e-mails on its server from the union to Nova students and professors, the SEIU took out full-page advertisements in local newspapers comparing the school to communist regimes in China and Cuba. The union got word out to reporters that The Current was barred from printing full-page, $400 advertisements from the SEIU; staffers at the school paper confirmed that after running one ad, they were prohibited from accepting more from the union. The SEIU also discovered that the dean of Nova´s law school sits on the board of directors of Access Group, a private lender that does business with Nova. Dean Joseph Harbaugh says he´s filling the role pro bono. Separately, the school came under fire for routing calls to Nova´s financial-aid office to a center that, unbeknown to students, was run by lender Sallie Mae.

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