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Workers' Treatment Questioned

Workers' Treatment Questioned

Last Monday, protesters from the On the Wake of Emancipation Campaign raised concerns about the treatment of campus housekeepers, calling it one form of institutional racism among many at UNC.

Treatment of housekeepers has long been a controversial issue, especially since the 1999 protest held by the housekeeper's union, UE-150, that led to the resignation of Director of Housekeeping Services Michael O'Brien.

And junior Kristi Booker, who participated in Monday's OWEC protest, said the University's latest efforts to boost housekeepers' salaries and provide career training just aren't enough.

She said the treatment of housekeepers is an example of institutional racism because workers continue to be overworked and underpaid, and she claims some housekeepers even are direct descendants of slaves owned by UNC.

"Housekeepers need better pay to support their families and their commute to Chapel Hill," Booker said.

Barbara Prear, leader of UE-150, agreed that housekeepers meet racism here at UNC -- and probably at all UNC-system schools. "Look at where the largest number of African Americans are working on campus," Prear said, referring to grounds, housekeeping and dining services. "Look at where the blacks are employed."

John Heuer, chairman of the committee to hire a new director of housekeeping services, acknowledged alleged unfair treatment of UNC's housekeepers. "The University has had a legacy of lack of respect and concern for housekeepers."

But Heuer said the University's recent efforts have dealt with the issue effectively.

He said the Cheek Clark Building is the University's advanced housekeeping administration facility that provides training and addresses career development.

"The University is going the extra mile to help improve (the situation) ... It has taken measures to rectify the past lack of concern and respect," Heuer said.

William Burston, acting director of housekeeping services, said the housekeepers have received two in-range salary adjustments, one three years ago and one last March.

"This is over and above any pay raise that other employees receive at one time," Burston said.

Although Prear said she has not encountered instances of direct racism in the workplace, she has concerns about UNC's employment structure because many blacks are at the lower end of the income bracket.

"Resolution will come from the leadership of North Carolina, the legislative bodies and the people of the state," Prear said. "The system is racist."

The University Editor can be reached at udesk@unc.edu.

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