Labor activists ask UCSD to rehire janitor

    Two years ago, Rodriguez was fired from Bergensons Property Services, Inc., through which she had provided janitorial services to UCSD, for allegedly attempting to unionize her fellow co-workers. UCSD later rehired Rodriguez, but she was fired again in July 2003 when university officials discovered that she used a false name in her application, according to Juan Astorga, a labor union organizer for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 3299, the union fighting to have Rodriguez rehired.

    “”The reason they fired her is because she lied in her application,”” Astorga said.

    According to Astorga, Rodriguez did not have the right documents to legally work in the United States, but claimed that she had by using her false name when she was being rehired by UCSD to work as a janitor. University officials, upon discovering the falsification, discharged her according to policy. Astorga said that the university discovered the falsity when Rodriguez confessed it to officials.

    Rodriguez has now obtained documents to work legally in the United States, according to Astorga.

    “”For her doing the right thing, she got fired,”” Astorga said. “”We want to give her the opportunity to work because she is legal to work now.””

    Astorga also claimed that a UCSD official had knowledge of Rodriguez’s false documentation during the time of her re-employment in 2001, and advised Rodriguez to keep the false name because the university “”did not have authorization to investigate the status of immigrants,”” Astorga said.

    University officials could not verify Astorga’s claim.

    “”We are not able to discuss the employment of specific employees Š The university takes a look at these matters very seriously, before anything happens,”” Director of Labor Relations Michael Melman said. “”The university does not take actionwithout fully investigating the matter.””

    Melman said that when workers hired at UCSD are not satisfied with a situation, they can file a grievance to the university. If he or she is still not satisfied, a professional arbitrator can be brought in to handle the situation.

    “”If they disagree with what [action] the university has taken, and if the matters cannot be resolved, then they can [bring in binding arbitration],”” Melman said.

    In many large organizations, the knowledge that workers may be undocumented immigrants is common and does not always hinder an employer from hiring a worker, according to Wayne Cornelius, director for the Center for Comparative Immigration Studies and professor of immigration politics at UCSD.

    “”If anybody in the university were thinking about the composition of the work force that they use to clean their buildings, they should have known that they were overwhelmingly immigrants, and that the large percentage of those immigrant workers are undocumented,”” Cornelius said. “”It’s common knowledge.””

    Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlan is one student organization that supports Rodriguez’s case and has hope of bringing about student awareness of the case.

    “”There is a basic necessity to survive,”” MEChA member and Earl Warren College junior Magdalena Munoz said. “”You need a job. They’re not stealing from anyone, and it would be unfair to punish these people for basic necessities.””

    Munoz said that Rodriguez’s case is a misunderstanding, and that individuals who support her cause also aim to follow policy.

    “”She did turn in the right documents and she was fired,”” Munoz said. “”Everyone wants to follow policy … We all know there are rules and procedures.””

    Munoz and Astorga, who are in contact with Rodriguez, both said that Rodriguez was upset that she was called a liar and that she needs employment.

    Rodriguez was not available for comment.

    MEChA is currently working on the project “”Operation Travajadores,”” which addresses issues of Latino workers and short-staffing.

    “”What we believe in our organization is that we need to be involved in the community and our community’s issues, and I think this really implies and is an active example of it,”” Munoz said.

    Students for Economic Justice, which works closely with labor unions, is supporting Rodriguez’s cause as well.

    SEJ member and Thurgood Marshall College junior Erica Kermani said she felt UCSD students were not sensitized to workers’ rights.

    “”I think students have to realize that these people are not invisible,”” Kermani said. “”We have this perception that our school is clean, and we don’t realize that there are people who are actually doing it. There are people behind the scenes.””

    AFSCME has also pushed for the approval of an agreement with the university whereby an employee’s use of a false name or social security number would not lead to termination. They hope such an agreement between the university and its workers would lead to the open disclosure of any false documentation of workers without fear of being fired.

    According to Astorga, the agreement has not been passed, but a similar agreement was signed at UCLA.

    “”If anybody has false documents, nobody is going to come forward,”” Astorga said. “”Now it’s going to put precedence ‹ if anybody has false documentation and they want to come forward with it, no one is going to want to do it because they’re going to be fired.””

    Both the union and the student organization said they hope for a peaceful agreement without protest and demonstrations.

    “”We’re hoping this agreement can be done quietly and behind closed doors,”” Munoz said.

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