Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Timing is Everything

Donna Shalala, who served as Secretary of Health and Human Services in the Clinton Administration, is now the president of the University of Miami. Not a bad gig; she gets a nice big house here in Coral Gables, she gets a nice office, and a lot of people send money to the university — they just topped $1 billion in their annual giving drive. However, the university is also having a bit of a problem with their hired help; they don’t offer health benefits to their janitors, and they are, as is the case of most low-paid workers, the least able to afford health care. President Shalala has, so far, refused to concede this benefit, and the janitors, according to Anders Schneiderman of the Service Employees International Union, are contemplating a job action.

Just as University of Miami President Donna Shalala is fighting off attempts by low-wage janitors at her campus to win a living wage, the Sunday NYT mag goes and prints a two-page spread about her luxury home in Coral Gables.


One of the many ironies here is that Shalala – who as a proper Clintonista held her ground on keeping the health care crisis front and center at HHS – is now catching flack on campus for denying health insurance to low-paid janitors who clean the university. In a campaign that echoes that of the well-publicized Harvard janitors a few years ago, the students at the famously apathetic school are side-by-side with the janitors in protesting Shalala’s stance.

Now, it appears that the Miami janitors are about to vote to strike. Making this NYT mag “profile” truly poor form.

So just as Shalala confesses in an almost satirical interview by Edward Lewine she can’t do without the help making her bed every morning, U of Miami janitor Maritza Paz can’t even clear seven bucks an hour and is staggering under the burden of trying to pay off her $33,000 medical bills for two life-saving operations.

Well, at least she didn’t say “Let them eat cake.” Perhaps if they took some of the money they raise for the football team and put it toward paying the service workers a living wage with benefits, Dr. Shalala might make her own bed in the morning. Oh, and if they have any left over, they could give it to the Theatre Department…