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Labor Pains: Nova Southeastern Unlawfully Suppressed Union, NLRB Determines

Nova's custodial workers tried to organize.
Nova's custodial workers tried to organize.

More than four years after Nova Southeastern University got flak for union busting, the National Labor Relations Board has recently sided with a group of former custodial workers who were harassed by the college's higher-ups when they tried to organize.

The NLRB has even told Nova that it must post fliers around the university, informing workers of their right to organize. The school has 14 days to post the advisories.

Some of the text from the mandated flier: "The National Labor Relations Board has found that we violated Federal labor law and has ordered us to post and obey this notice... We will not tell you that you cannot distribute union literature on our property."

The NLRB's opinion is in line with Administrative Law Judge John H. West's 2009 decision: that Nova supervisors illegally bullied employees for distributing union information.

"Workers shouldn't have to fear for their jobs because they are trying to get better wages and benefits to support their families," Eric Brakken, director of the Service Employees International union, Local 32BJ, said in an email to the Pulp. "We commend the NLRB for its decision to keep employer intimidation out of the workplace."

Nova has not responded to Pulp requests for comment.

The NLRB's made its decision on August 26.

Problems, however, started for NOVA's janitorial staff in August 2006.

At the time, staffers of Unicco, a cleaning-services company, began organizing for better pay and affordable health care. These employees, who were organizing off the clock, wanted to join the Service Employees International Union, Local 32 BJ.

Nova nixed employees' efforts: Admins said that staffers were violating a no-handbills policy on campus and that union organizing posed a security threat to students, faculty, and staff.

Unicco had been NOVA's janitorial contractor for 12 years and had few -- if any -- complaints. Unicco was voted the university's contractor of the year in 2006, in fact.

But in September 2006 -- shortly after organizing efforts began -- Unicco lost its contract with Nova, and many of the workers were laid off.

The lion's share of these workers were not rehired by new custodial companies, though workers are normally rehired by new firms during contract change-ups.

The workers claim that their union activity had prevented their reemployment.

Take Jose Sanchez, for example.

When Sanchez asked Tony Todaro, Nova's director of physical plant, about reemployment, 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.

It's unclear whether the NLRB's decision will have any direct impact on these displaced workers. More than 100 of the 330 custodial employees were left without jobs in 2006 and were still without jobs in 2009.

And, as in 2006, it appears that few in the university community are speaking up on the workers' behalf.


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