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The Daily Tar Heel

UNC housekeepers' struggle for equal rights continues

After accusations of employee abuse plagued an embattled UNC housekeeping department in 2011, a new administration was left to the task of reform in 2012.

Housekeeping Services hired a new director, Darius Dixon, in April after the departure of former director Bill Burston and former assistant director Tonya Sell. They were accused of threatening and verbally abusing employees.

“After some of the past managers we’ve had that didn’t make the housing department a nice place to work, hopefully the morale will get better,” said James Holman, housekeeper and Employee Forum delegate, in April.

In 2011, PRM Consulting Group made 45 recommendations to the department, which included hiring new management.

Other suggestions spanned bringing in a bilingual translator to fulfilling the needs of a large number of Burmese housekeepers to instituting a peer advisory council.

Housekeeper Maria Isabel Prudencio-Arias filed a lawsuit against UNC. Her attorney, Al McSurely, said the department and University violated numerous civil rights of housekeepers in the past.

“Prudencio-Arias was systematically a victim to drive her out of her mind and out of Chapel Hill — and the University was aware of this,” McSurely said at a September hearing.

Prudencio-Arias petitioned UNC for not responding appropriately to the sexual harassment complaints she had filed against Burston with the equal opportunity office.

But Prudencio-Arias was not alone in her concerns about how the University has responded to the complaints of housekeepers.

In November, 17 housekeepers filed a grievance against zone manager Juanita Williams and crew leader Annette Reaves, citing a persistently hostile work environment.

“It’s not right,” housekeeper Htoo Simon said last month, alluding to Williams’ and Reaves’ treatment of workers. “We are not criminal prisoners — we are housekeepers.”

Zaina Alsous, a member of the UNC club Student Action with Workers, said the University hadn’t responded to the complaints housekeepers made about Williams and Reeves two to three months prior to the grievance.

But Dixon said the department had been following the situation prior to the grievance and will continue to do so in the future.

“Everybody’s been on top of that for a long time … coming up with the appropriate response,” he said in November.

Despite setbacks, several administrators maintain that the department continues to make strides.

“It’s no secret that the department has had its share of problems and some serious issues,” said Anna Wu, assistant vice chancellor for facilities operations, in a letter to the editor in the DTH last month.

“But facilities services and University administration have made a renewed commitment to correct past mistakes.”

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