The Employee Forum on Wednesday was characterized by an uneasy settling and clarification of disputes.
Several protestors lined one side of the Pleasants Family Assembly Room inside Wilson Library, holding signs such as “Repeal the no-sit-down policy” and “Stop dividing housekeepers.”
“The real issue here is that there is a management culture that needs to change,” said Miriam Thompson, labor committee co-chairwoman of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
“The housekeepers’ struggle needs to be revisited. The current policy doesn’t let the workers have much say in matters and it infantilizes some of our lowest-paid workers,” she said.
Facilities services Executive Director Van Dobson focused much of the Employee Forum on these concerns.
“When I first started here two years ago, we didn’t have much of fair and consistent employee policy and procedures,” he said.
In late July and early August, eight housekeepers received disciplinary action after they were caught taking unauthorized rests.
The seven suspensions and firing of a temporary worker were expunged following an Employee Forum committee meeting. And the only employees to ultimately serve suspensions were reimbursed for their weeklong unpaid suspension.
Dobson affirmed that, even today, he has a policy of not listening to rumors from or about employees.
“All those involved inappropriate, unscheduled breaks,” he said. “It sent me a signal that we need to make it very clear to our staff what the policies are.”
Dobson recently sent out a memorandum to all employees reminding them about break and work schedule policies that “we intend to enforce.
“If you cannot take your break when it is scheduled, call your boss and let him know,” Dobson said.
But policy clarification was not the only issue lurking in the forum.
“The hot button was the DTH article yesterday,” Dobson said. “I was totally offended by it.
“The first thing I did after I read the article is that I called Bill (Burston) and Tonya (Sell) to sit down and talk to them,” he said.
Dobson said that he asked Sell, the assistant director of housekeeping, about comments she made about slapping people around among other things.
He then assured the forum that Sell was simply using figurative language.
Several employees at the meeting suggested that Dobson write a rebuttal to Tuesday’s article to demonstrate department unity, but he resisted and warned employees against talking to reporters about personnel issues.
As the discussion progressed, the divide between workers and management became more apparent.
Workers were concerned about losing rest and break privileges, while management said it does not want workers to abuse breaks.
After reading employee break and schedule policies, one audience member said that “(workers) are being made to feel as if they are not equals on this campus … (the policies) seem to be really, really, really harsh.”
Dobson said he would make sure discretion is used in the future to avoid management being too harsh toward employees, adding that a distinction needs to be made between well-needed rest breaks and blatant abuses of the system.
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