Taking on Roaches and Winning in PortMiami

Rotted-out floors, windows that leaked – even termite, ant and roach infestations. These were the conditions that cashier booth attendants at Florida’s PortMiami, “cruise capital of the world,” dealt with every day. That is, they did until they decided they would stand up to management to demand changes.

They got them, thanks to the power of solidarity – and their union, AFSCME Local 199.

It wasn’t that easy, however. These PortMiami employees are all part-time workers, fearful of retaliation by management if they spoke up “because it could mean an impact on our hours,” said Melissa Spicer, a Miami-Dade County Seaport employee. “These were issues since before even I started working there (in 2008).”

Spicer said the poor working conditions within their toll booths, which included broken chairs and no electrical hookups to power air conditioning or even fans, “reflected how we were treated by management. They made sure the booths looked good from the outside but never spent money on fixing our problems.”

That was okay with management since the outside of the booths looked attractive to the cruise ship passengers who stopped at the toll booths to pay for their parking fees. But it was intolerable for the employees who had to work there. What could they do?

Not much, working alone. But then they realized that they could make a difference if they only stood up, together, as union members to demand that management fix the problem. To make sure management paid attention, they began a formal union grievance process. They also gave management another chance to do the right thing. 

This time, thanks to their united voice and the help of a fellow Local 199 member from the fire department that had started as a staff rep, Pete Ortiz, they got results.

The floors are now being fixed. Windows have been replaced. Pest control is now standard. Power is coming to all booths, and new chairs that were just sitting in storage are now helping these hard-working Local 199 members make it through the workday. A labor-management committee has been created to keep the good momentum going.

“Sometimes,” said Spicer, “you have to take a risk and see what is possible. We knew we were in this together and so did they – and that made all the difference.”

The success has even inspired more of the department’s employees to join the union. In fact, Local 199 membership at PortMiami has more than doubled.

AFSCME has never been stronger at PortMiami, now that the workers realize that they are the union and that, standing together, they are AFSCME Strong.