Campus workers fear the return of students to campus — and are calling out the University for failing to address those concerns.
UNC housekeepers delivered a petition expressing concerns about fall reopening plans and demanding concrete policies to Director of Housekeeping Services Herb Richmond on July 22.
The petition gave administration a deadline of five business days to respond. To date, campus workers have heard no response, said Penny Elliott, a crew leader for UNC Housekeeping.
The petition addresses concerns such as providing proper personal protective equipment, requiring health checks at work, extending administrative leave and requiring the University to be transparent about the private contractors hired to clean.
A tweet from the UNC chapter of UE 150, the North Carolina Public Service Workers Union, said:
The housekeepers’ demands are part of a series of ongoing demonstrations by faculty to demand safer working conditions.
On Monday, UE 150 hosted its latest direct action protest. This protest coincided with the first day of UNC on-campus housing move-in.
Delivering the petition
Elliott delivered the demands to Richmond at the Cheek Clark building. The letter had over 250 signatures from workers and members of the campus community.
“I’d like to make sure that everybody knows that the University housekeeping services are committed to making sure that all of our students, staff and faculty are treated safely,” Richmond said upon receiving the demands. “We have all the protections, we follow the CDC guidelines, the guidelines set up by EHS, Environmental Health Services, and we’ve done extensive training inside of housekeeping. So we’re doing our best to make sure that everyone is safe.”
When asked for Richmond’s response to the workers’ petition, UNC Media Relations responded via email with a written statement from Richmond.
“I think about their well-being every day and it’s more important now than ever that we stay vigilant and protect each other. I’m consistently talking with campus leaders about how Carolina can adapt what we’re doing to address their concerns,” Richmond said in the statement.
Media Relations said Richmond received the petition and spoke with facilities workers but did not comment on whether the workers demands had been met.
Many concerns center around fears that students will not adhere to community guidelines of wearing masks, social-distancing and other precautions to limit community spread of COVID-19.
“In my dorm, Carmichael, I have seen several students come in and out of the building with no masks, no nothing,” Elliott said.
Housekeepers clean spaces used by students, such as residence halls, bathrooms and lounge areas. When students do not comply with social distancing guidelines, campus workers risk exposure, Elliott said.
“I feel like it’s not fair,” Elliott said. “The University is worried about the students’ safety, you know, but they’re not making them cover the guidelines. That still puts us at risk."
James Holman, a facilities worker, echoed Elliott's concerns.
“The students are going to have to do their part too, just like we have to do ours,” Holman said.
Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Bob Blouin said students must comply with UNC’s community standards, proper hand-washing, physical distancing and mask-wearing in order to maintain a safe campus.
Blouin also said failing to comply may result in removal from a class or course, de-enrollment from the University or losing their status as a residential student.
Employees are also required to follow community standards “as a condition of employment,” according to UNC Media Relations.
Another concern from campus workers is a lack of proper equipment. Holman, who has previously emphasized the need for more sanitation equipment, said the University still needs to fulfill the housekeepers request for more equipment.
According to UNC Media Relations, Carolina ordered 12 sanitation machines, one of which is already in use. The rest are expected to arrive in August.
But Holman said that 12 sanitation machines will not be enough to cover Carolina’s large campus.
“The housekeeping staff doesn’t have enough people to wipe everything down constantly,” Holman said. “The way people are going out being sick and being quarantined — it's not going to work.”
Elliott and Holman both emphasized the need for proper testing and health checks for employees. Holman said employees were not tested for COVID-19 upon returning to work. The University has said that everyone will not be tested before returning to campus because doing so "could create a false sense of security."
Holman said that since housekeepers are being asked to protect employees by disinfecting the campus that they should be frequently tested.
“You mean that the University can not take care of the people that are on the front lines,” Holman said. “We need to be protected better than we are.”
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