“They treat us like criminals or slaves.” A Burmese housekeeper details what it’s like to work with a manager who constantly berates and harasses him and his coworkers on the job.
Sadly, this is no isolated incident. The system in UNC housekeeping has consistently failed the workers who maintain our University, and suffering in the department has taken place for decades.
In the 1990s, the UNC Housekeeper Association brought forth — and won — an historic lawsuit against the University asserting racial discrimination through poverty-level wages, disrespectful management and inadequate job training.
Yet more than 20 years later, little has substantively changed for UNC housekeepers. The lowest paid employees at the University, housekeepers are still mostly people of color who face disrespect and poor working conditions on a daily basis.
In 2011, housekeeper Amanda Hulon, bravely came forward to take legal action for sexual harassment on the job by her superior. Students organized protests alongside housekeepers against this systemic abuse.
Chancellor Holden Thorp and the University administration responded by allocating $104,000 to hire PRM Consulting Group, a human resource firm.
After months of interviewing housekeepers, the PRM report documented that many housekeepers believe their managers do not promote an environment of dignity and respect.
But despite this report and the University’s promises of reform, housekeepers are still dealing with abusive managers.
Last week, members of Student Action with Workers met with a group of housekeepers and listened as they testified to their appalling treatment at the hands of zone manager Juanita Williams.
Workers told stories of being screamed at throughout their shifts, facing humiliation in front of other employees by being called “stupid” for not speaking English and being scolded for taking a few minutes rest during an eight-hour shift.
Students worked with them to file a group grievance and contacted the press. Days later, Williams was terminated.
Housekeepers continue to come forward with similar experiences of disrespect on the job.
Rather than encouraging workers to share these stories, the University’s housekeeping and human resources departments have done a poor job of telling housekeepers about the rights to which they are entitled.
The University has responded by only making it more difficult for housekeepers to file grievances — removing the option of filing a grievance for a “hostile work environment,” for example.
Being a part of the UNC community means we all have a role to play in caring for those who make UNC what it is: students, faculty and staff. It is up to all of us to demand justice for campus workers.
The decades-old veil of invisibility, apathy and silence in housekeeping is being lifted. Workers are speaking up, and it is about time the University really listened.
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