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Longtime UNC housekeeper retires

Odessa Davis, a UNC housekeeper who has been a voice for her coworkers in an ongoing effort to reform housekeeping, is retiring after nearly 17 years of service.

“I’m leaving because so much is going on in housekeeping now,” Davis said.

“I would have liked to stay for two more years, but I think it’s time to go.”

Colleagues said Davis was more than just a housekeeper to members of the University community — serving as a leader and friend to many.

At a retirement party held for her in Odum Village on Wednesday, James Holman, a crew leader for housekeeping, said it was held to show gratitude for her service to UNC.

“She is a strong advocate for employee rights, an excellent worker and a great friend,” he said.

David Fraley, a building environmental technician for housekeeping services, said she is an inspiration.

“She’s always strived to make the department a better place to work,” he said.

“I’ll miss her smile — she’s one of these people that you just can’t replace.”

Davis has been involved with advocacy for workers rights in the housekeeping department.

After being suspended for a week without pay in 2010 for sitting down during an unauthorized break, Davis said the new “sit down policy” is her most significant accomplishment.

“We don’t have to get approval from a supervisor to use the bathroom anymore.” Davis said.

She said that while things are improving, there is more that needs to be done.

Davis said the large crowd at the event made her feel loved.

“I love them all very much and I hope they continue to speak out and not to be afraid,” she said.

Even though she said she fell in love with UNC as soon as she started her job, Davis is looking forward to retirement.

“I’m going to take two weeks to sleep first, and then do some gardening and things around the house,” she said.

Steve Bader, a member of the North Carolina Public Services Union, said in a statement that was read aloud at the party that Davis will be missed.

“Davis represents the spirit of what our movement is about,” the statement said.

Laurel Ashton, a UNC graduate who works with Student Action with Workers, helped organize the event.

“Odessa is a much loved housekeeper and organizer on campus who has worked with many different organizations,” she said.

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She said Davis has always been one of the most outspoken housekeepers, acting as a leader to the rest of the staff.

“She always says, ‘I tell them you have to speak up. I can’t speak for you,’” Ashton said.
“She empowers people.”

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