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'We need a raise:' Housekeepers express salary concerns during Appreciation Week

Robin Lee, a beloved housekeeper in Kenan Residence Hall, poses for a portrait on Monday, Sept. 12, 2022.

The UNC Housekeeping Employee Statement of Demands includes 21 handwritten notes. 

Most of the statements — which have been scanned and sent to housekeeping supervisors and Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz — ask for increased pay, and share concerns that employees don't have enough compensation to pay for necessities like rent, food, child care, transportation and health care bills. 

One employee explained that their coworker recently had to open her piggy bank to get enough quarters to pay for gas. 

"It had me with tears in my eyes," the employee wrote. "We need a raise."

Last Thursday, the University held an event to celebrate International Housekeepers Awareness Week.The appreciation week is an annual event on campus, and aims to celebrate UNC housekeepers and their work. 

Several campus leaders spoke at the event, including Associate Vice Chancellor for Facilities Services Anna Wu and Executive Director of Facilities Operations Darius Dixon.

“I was sitting there listening to them say, ‘Oh we appreciate y'all,' 'Y’all do this and that,’” Robin Lee, one of the housekeepers in attendance, said. “If you appreciate us, why don’t we have no more money? Get up there and say we’re gonna give y’all some more money.” 

 'Come here and walk in our shoes'

Lee is 62-years-old and has been working for the state for 17 years. She now works two jobs to make ends meet. Lee said she has raised complaints about pay to the University for years, to little avail.

Lee said she and others sent the compilation of 21 statements to her supervisors and Guskiewicz, who spoke in a video recording at the event.

She said she has yet to hear back from the University regarding the demands.

“They need to come here and walk in our shoes and see what we put up with,” Lee said. “Once they come here and see what we do and see what we put up with every day with the students here, they’ll say, ‘Yeah, they need more money.’ They don’t even take the time to come out of their office to do that.”

'We can’t even afford to pay our rent'

Housekeepers at UNC are paid between $31,200 and $41,234 annually, according to UNC Media Relations. Fair market rent for a one-bedroom unit in Orange County is $1,134 per month, which is nearly 44 percent of some UNC housekeepers' monthly salary. 

This is notably below the annual median household income for single-income earners in North Carolina, which is $53,687, according to the most recent census data. It’s also substantially below local rent, which many housekeepers in attendance also expressed concerns about.

“The standard of living here in Chapel Hill is very very high,” Emily Barbee, another housekeeper attending the event, said. “With the money we are making, we can’t even afford to pay our rent. If you are a single parent, you can’t afford to pay for an apartment and to raise a child. We are just making a little bit more than minimum wage. That’s nothing! Just go to the grocery store and you spend that money, and you pay bills. That’s it.” 

Though Barbee mentioned she considers her apartment in Carrboro a lucky break, many housekeepers have to commute because they can’t afford local rents. Additionally, Lee said her parking fee is 52 dollars a month, making her feel like she has to 'pay to come to work.' A daytime parking pass for employees making less than $32,000 annually costs between $453 and $596 per year, according to Media Relations — excluding additional fees for Park & Ride and weeknight permits. 

'Judge us based on our importance'

Salary struggles are not new to the housekeeping staff, but in recent years they say it’s gotten worse. Some housekeepers said they have had to take on additional work because of short staffing.

“They know that we have the most important job at the University. They state it,” Chineka Stanley, a housekeeper who’s been working at UNC for four-and-a-half years, said. “When COVID hit the University, we were the only employees in the University that were here. We didn’t get COVID pay or extra added to our check. The whole state — the whole country — got COVID bonuses.”

Stanley, a self-proclaimed UNC fan before she began work at UNC, knows her work is essential. She raised the question if students would still attend UNC if the spaces she cared for were not cleaned. She also mentioned that housekeeping is one of the most diverse departments at the University and it includes many college graduates, like herself. 

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“Don’t judge us because of our position,” Stanley said. “You understand what I’m saying? Judge us based on our importance. We should get paid based on the work that we provide.”

In their statements at the event, both Chancellor Guskiewicz and Nate Knuffman, vice chancellor for Finance and Operations and chief financial officer, expressed appreciation for the housekeeping staff and acknowledged the necessity of their work.

Knuffman specifically highlighted the challenges the staff has experienced recently. 

“We’ve been through quite a lot together over these past couple of years,” Knuffman said at the event. “Through it all, you’ve been on the front lines, helping to ensure Carolina stays safe. Your work truly exemplifies public service and dedication."

Knuffman said that he couldn’t be prouder of the UNC housekeeping division, and their "extraordinary" contributions to the University campus. He thanked the housekeeping staff on behalf of the leadership in Finance and Operations.

The Daily Tar Heel reached out to Dixon for comment. He declined and referred all questions to Media Relations.  


Aisha Baiocchi

Aisha Baiocchi is the 2023-24 enterprise managing editor at The Daily Tar Heel. She has previously served as a senior writer on the university desk. Aisha is a junior majoring in journalism at UNC and international comparative studies at Duke University, as well as a minor in history.