Sunday, September 28, 2003

Picket lines welcome fans to Miami for game against UC



By Jennifer Edwards
The Cincinnati Enquirer

OXFORD - Strikers Saturday greeted football fans as they headed for Miami University's sold-out game against the University of Cincinnati with cheers, chants and a few jeers.

Nearly 30,000 sports fans filed by the pickets in what made for a spirited day two of the first labor strike in Miami's history.

About 900 food-service, maintenance and grounds workers want higher wages and better benefits.

Union leaders say that despite being one of the costliest public universities in the state, Miami pays the lowest wage of any Ohio college - as little as $7.73 an hour.

But administration officials counter that most union members earn between $9 and $9.99 an hour.

"This is better than the game," said Tom Lunsford, 60, of Trenton, as a student protester bellowed into a bullhorn, "Hey hey! Ho ho! Poverty wages got to go!" while another student ran by, bare-chested except for a red and white MU flag tied around his neck as a cape.

Campus police reported no trouble.

But displays of discontent from American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 209 over wages and benefits were clearly evident.

A 20-foot high inflatable skunk was tied to a vacant flagpole before the game, as union representatives from Chicago, Cleveland, Cincinnati and Dayton helped out on picket lines or held rallies elsewhere Saturday for Local 209.

"It's kind of smelly a lot here lately," cracked Bill Devore, a janitor at Miami's Middletown campus. He also is a member of the union's negotiating committee.

"Our wages here are among the lowest in the state, and tuition is the highest," he said. "Things will never be the same here again. We've raised awareness. We don't have a lot of money, but we have the truth on our side."

Many attending Saturday's game agreed, showing support for the strikers by donating money, cheering or shaking their hands.

"These people have been taken advantage of way too long," said Doug Brooks, a professor in the university's department of teacher education. "If they just took the money they screw these kids out of on parking tickets, they could give everybody a $2 raise now."

But others were not thrilled that picketers were permitted to surround them as they headed into Yager Stadium.

Some students yelled "Go home!" at picketers.

"I'm frustrated over the strike," said junior Jason Bryant, 21. "It damages Miami's image. I wish they would get this resolved ASAP."

But many other students - from both Miami and UC - were supportive, prompting tears of joy from a couple of union workers.

"I support the union," said Miami freshman Annie Perry, 19, as she took a break from shrieking into a bullhorn. "I really want to know where my tuition goes. It can't be the best university if it doesn't pay the laborers to live."

Neither the union nor the administration was willing to budge Saturday; each side insisted the next move was up to the other party.

Anna Michael contributed to this report. E-mail: jedwards@enquirer.com.




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