As the plutocrats gain momentum in American politics and with the Obama administration falling into despicable disgrace in face of corporate hegemony, there is little doubt that there will be more suffering in America. The savage cuts to government programs foisted on the American people by a rabid oligarchy operating through the Republican Party and capitulated to by the Democratic Party will hit the disabled, the poor, the disenfranchised, working people and the jobless with a disheartening force. Chris Hedges is right when he argues that liberalism is dead. Any redress in the courts, the Congress or any of the pseudo-institutions that patchwork our so-called American democracy has now become ossified, defunct, and/or bankrupt.
With this in mind, direct action now seems to be the only way to make sensible and meaningful change within the social, economic and political landscape. Protecting workers’ rights requires, as it always has, direct mobilization and action by workers and their allies to create the material conditions for socially responsible change and the ideological conditions for the unfolding of class consciousness needed to build pro-labor coalitions. Although the struggle of workers is an ongoing battle fought in many diverse geographical locations throughout the US, one place that has been overlooked in mainstream media or corporate media is the University of Maryland where workers have been mobilizing now for years to stop worker abuse.
I have written recently here at Dailycensored on the struggles of University of Maryland workers in an effort to highlight the struggle of public workers and their allies, many of whom are students, faculty and administrators. You can see the most recent article on the Fourth Forum for Solidarity at: Fourth Solidarity Forum for Workers Rights and Respect at University of Maryland took place on July 15th: workers and students gather to organize, http://dailycensored.com/2011/07/19/fourth-solidarity-forum-for-workers-rights-and-respect-at-university-of-maryland-took-place-on-july-15th-workers-and-students-gather-to-organize-2/).
Daycon and the Daycon workers strike at UMD
However worker actions at the University of Maryland (UMD) are not simply relegated to the efforts and struggles of public workers, as exemplified through the Fourth Forum and the allegations of sexual harassment, sexual abuse, worker discrimination that were echoed there. Although the corporate media has not covered the issue the workers employed at a company called Daycon, a company that has a contract with UMD, were forced to go on strike in April 2010 due to unfair labor practices by the corporation. The workers are represented by Teamsters Local Union 639.
Daycon is a $50-million dollar plus corporation that manufactures and distributes a wide range of cleaning and janitorial supplies in the Mid-Atlantic region. The company, based in Upper Marlboro, Maryland, considers itself a leader in the development of products and services for the sanitation industry. Daycon’s major customers are the University of Maryland, George Washington University, Howard University, The Smithsonian Museums, Washington Hospital Center, Reagan National Airport, Supreme Court Building, Nationals Ballpark, D.C. Fire Department, P.G. County Fire Department, and the Montgomery County Fire Department (http://umddropdaycon.org/about-daycon/).
Workers at Daycon UMD alleged that the company refused to negotiate fairly with their union. Daycon management abruptly walked away from federally-mediated arbitration with the union, declaring an impasse. Faced with what they called unfair labor practices, over 50 Daycon employees were forced to walk off the job in a ‘strike’ against the company in April of 2010. Through their union they filed a complaint against the company with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) during this time period alleging unfair labor practices.
Although the broad allegation in the complaint to the NLRB is that Daycon engaged in illegal contractual conduct without first bargaining with the union in good faith. The union contends that the ‘strike’ on behalf of the more than fifty Daycon workers was actually caused by the illegal and unilateral decisions and unfair labor practices of the company, the complaint specifically alleged that Daycon made unilateral changes in the contract they had with workers, such as subcontracting out snow-thrower repair work in violation of the collective bargaining agreement between the union and company. Workers also alleged in the complaint to the NLRB that Daycon pushed to implement a two tier wage system that would make it almost impossible for second tier workers to ever catch up with first tier workers no matter how hard or how long they worked and that this is and was in violation of the collective bargaining agreement with the union.
Despite the claims and actions of the union, on July 2, 2010 the striking workers of Daycon, represented by their union, offered to return to their former positions of employment and end the strike. They were rebuffed by the company that had since hired scabs to replace the striking workers. Daycon simply refused to reinstate the returning workers who had been on strike.
On September 22, 2010 the National Labor Relations Board issued a favorable decision on behalf of Local Union 639 through the federal court. The Board found that Daycon had indeed engaged in unfair labor practices, as alleged by workers and their union, and the decision of the NLRB ordered that Daycon restore the terms and conditions of employment of the striking workers by reinstating all strikers subject to the union’s July 2, 2010 unconditional offer to return to work with back-pay from the date of the offer to the date of their reinstatement (http://umddropdaycon.files.wordpress.com/2010/11/2954-001.pdf).
Daycon is currently appealing the decision and over 20 workers have yet to be rehired. The company is clearly trying to bust the worker’s union and will continue to appeal the NLRB ruling to the detriment of the striking workers in a punitive act of union busting.
A broad array of religious, community, student, and labor groups have emerged and rallied in support of the Daycon workers since the inception of the strike. These include The Metropolitan Washington Council, the AFL-CIO, The Community Service Agency, DC Jobs with Justice, The Student Labor Action Project (DC SLAP), DC Workers Rights Board and The DC Interfaith Coalition for Worker Justice. A group of students have organized a website, UMD Drop Daycon, (http://umddropdaycon.org/home/) in support of the workers arguing that since the University of Maryland portrays itself as an ethical community leader it cannot continue to claim or maintain that image if it continues to do business with a union-busting company that refuses to pay its new workers a dime above the industry’s starting rate of pay while engaging in unfair labor practices. Support for the Daycon workers also comes from UMD Feminism without Borders (http://maryland.usas.org/) and College Park Students for a Democratic Society (http://cpsds.org/).
On March 19th of this year (2011) the Student Government Association of UMD (SGA) unanimously passed a resolution calling on UMD President Wallace Loh to immediately terminate the University’s contract with Daycon in light of the NLRB decision and the company’s failure to reinstate all striking workers in accordance with the NLRB decision. The Student Government Association (SGA) represents more than 25,000 undergraduate students at UMD. The resolution by the SGA echoed the voices of a growing coalition of student groups that have called on President Loh to immediately terminate the UMD contract with Daycon. Hundreds of students have written letters to President Loh and signed a petition indicating their support for cutting the contract with Daycon.
President Loh responded to student calls to drop Daycon and terminate the university’s contract with them by claiming that terminating the Daycon contract would violate the 14th amendment of the Constitution. Yet Feminism Without Borders obtained a copy of the Daycon contract to see if Loh’s claim was actually factual and low and behold it is not. The group found that the contract, signed by Daycon and the University of Maryland contains a “Termination for Convenience” clause. This clause permits the University to terminate the contract “whenever the University shall determine that such termination is in the best interest of the University or the State.” This means that Loh’s position is legally incorrect, unless one thinks that continuing to pay a union busting company is in the best interest of UMD. Terminating the contract with Daycon would not violate the constitution or pose any sort of legal threat to the University for it falls under a clause of the contract allowing for such actions (http://maryland.usas.org/2011/03/18/student-government-agrees-now-is-the-time-to-drop-daycon/).
Meanwhile, striking workers from Daycon not reinstated under court order have claimed that they are having difficulty in paying for essential medicines since Daycon has refused to allow them back to work (http://umddropdaycon.org/home/). Yet Loh won’t budge and the contract with Daycon has not been terminated. In fact it has been scheduled for renewal, expressing clearly UMD management’s sympathies. This is not surprising when one considers this action by UMD alongside the crimes alleged at the Fourth Forum by workers (http://dailycensored.com/2011/07/19/fourth-solidarity-forum-for-workers-rights-and-respect-at-university-of-maryland-took-place-on-july-15th-workers-and-students-gather-to-organize-2/). A hideous pattern of anti-worker sentiment is clearly on display at UMD.
Students occupy UMD President Loh’s office
In early May of this year three students from the Drop Daycon coalition met with President Loh and two other top administrators. The first half of the meeting explored actions that the University can take in the short term, including holding a forum with Daycon management. When the discussion turned to the legality of cutting the contract, however, the meeting took a shocking turn: President Loh walked out, slamming the door behind him so hard it bounced right back open (http://umddropdaycon.org/category/administrative-response/).
In response, on May 13, 2011 UMD students occupied Loh’s office during their finals. They were demanding that the administration take immediate action in response to Daycon’s blatant abuse of its workers and its refusal to obey the NLRB’s ruling. According to the student occupiers:
“Our main demand is that our university issue a letter stating our intention to not renew our contract with Daycon when it is up for renewal later this year” (http://maryland.usas.org/2011/05/13/umd-students-occupy-presidents-office/).
UMS President Loh responded in June of this year in face of the months of protesting by student groups across the campus, that the University of Maryland will not only not terminate their contract with Daycon but will instead renew their contract with the union-busting company for another year come December. This was a slap in the face for workers and students and represents another example of anti-labor practices embraced by management at UMD.
When the news broke students from the Drop Daycon coalition said the decision made by university president simply added more fuel to their fight to cut the university’s ties with Daycon which is appealing the guilty ruling for violating federal labor laws. Junior government and politics major Ann Levie, a member of the student-run coalition to dump Daycon stated publicly once she heard of Loh’s decision:
“We are going to keep going until we believe that justice has been served to Daycon. We are not going to let Daycon be rewarded for violating workers’ rights. Our university is rewarding them for violating workers’ rights instead of punishing them. And we are not going to let that happen” (http://www.diamondbackonline.com/news/univ-to-renew-daycon-contract-1.2355665)
Acting Vice President for Administrative Affairs, Frank Brewer, stuck to Loh’s script repeating the erroneous argument that the university is simply legally unable to sever its ties with Daycon. According to Brewer the National Labor Relations Board still needs to hear Daycon’s appeal and therefore the university would not break its ties with the company choosing instead to renew Daycon’s contract. He noted that since Daycon or its workers could even take the matter to federal court the university could not legally make a decision until the full legal process was carried out and all remedies exhausted. Brewer, who is also the director of Facilities Management (the subject of worker’s grievances at the Fourth Forum) publicly declared:
“The students were asking that the university intervene in the ongoing dispute between management and labor in this case. The university position is that it is not appropriate for the university to intervene in the ongoing adjudicating of the matter” (ibid).
In a nauseating attempt to appear socially responsible and concerned for worker’s rights, a conciliatory Brewer added that the university will work with the attorney general’s office to create specific regulations against working with companies that are socially irresponsible and that the university has previously sent letters to Daycon “affirming its strong desire to work with a company that is socially responsible”. Dismissing student actions and the NLRB ruling, Brewer indicated the anti-Daycon student group’s actions had “added food for thought for the university’s future contractors”. In a conciliatory statement he noted that:
“I think that it is very much in response to the dialogue with students that we are taking action; they have increased the awareness of our responsibilities. We have come to the conclusion that there are steps that need to be taken in terms of future vendor contracts” (ibid).
Anti-labor practices at UMD must stop
Clearly anti-labor practices at UMD are not simply restricted to public workers. UMD management continually sides with anti-union and anti-worker actions while noting their ‘concern’ for workers at UMD. Only direct action like that mounted by students and workers can hope to force management to stop violating worker’s rights and prevent them from working with corporations that do. Forming coalitions with students, workers and the community will be continuously necessary if workers are to have any rights at the University of Maryland.
Daycon and UMD is but one example of anti-labor actions at the campus. In our next article we will look at another troubling example of UMD management siding with anti-worker corporations and unjust labor practices. A company that calls itself Wings (a construction subcontractor with striking workers) is a subcontractor of Clarke Construction, the largest construction firm in the area. Clarke is a contractor that is building Oakland Hall on the UMD campus.