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"We can’t keep living off this": Housekeepers address trustees, ask for higher wages

UNC Housekeepers gathered outside of the Carolina Inn on Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2022.

“Today, it makes me feel good that you walked up and let me know that you are hearing us — because we tired,” housekeeper Robin Lee said to the UNC Board of Trustees on Wednesday. “We is tired. We is tired. We is tired. We're overworked and we is tired.” 

Lee, other housekeepers and a representative from The Workers Union were eventually invited into the Board of Trustees meeting today at 1:00 p.m. 

“​​You know, we have been pushing and pushing,” Lee said. “It just seems like, and I hate to say it like this, but it seems like didn’t nobody give a damn, because wasn’t nobody reaching out to us.”

The group entered the Carolina Inn at 12:30 p.m. They held signs in both Spanish and English, planning to address trustees as they re-entered the Chancellors' Ballroom after their lunch break.

The first person to approach the group was Theodore Nollert, president of the UNC Graduate and Professional Student Government. About five minutes later, Christi Hurt, the chancellor’s chief of staff, introduced herself to the group.

When Hurt asked what she could do to support housekeepers, Lee said, “You could get us some more money.”

Hurt re-affirmed the Chancellor’s commitment to the housekeepers' cause and said she would help get their demands directly to the trustees. 

Hurt then brought David Boliek, the chairperson of the Board of Trustees, and Trustee R. Gene Davis Jr. to the group in the hallway. They greeted Lee, shook hands with the other housekeepers and thanked them all for their work. 

“We can’t keep living off this,” Lee said to them. “I make $1300 every two weeks. I bring $824 home. I got house payments ... I'm glad it took this for someone to listen to the housekeepers, because it seems like nobody is paying the housekeepers no attention. We are fed up. We are overworked. We're getting to the point where we don't even want to come to work anymore."

As Lee spoke, student body president Taliajah “Teddy” Vann and Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz joined the crowd around her. 

“First and foremost, we are very grateful for you and all that you do,” Davis responded. “That’s the first thing that you should know. And, the second thing is that you should always be heard when there are concerns.”

Davis then invited the housekeepers into the meeting, escorting them into the ballroom and standing next to Lee. As the meeting began, Boliek acknowledged the group of housekeepers. 

“You know, as all former alums, we have benefited while we were here from the everyday hard work that you provided, and continue to provide now, as a unit here, as important people to the everyday operation of the University,” he said. “I do want to acknowledge and let you know that the current pay scale and the current working hours are very much in the forefront of the minds of the Chancellor and this board.”

Boliek said the BOT is working with the Chancellor, UNC System President Peter Hans and Vice Chancellor for Finance and Operations and CFO Nate Knuffman to address the needs and “support what is a challenging employment environment.”

The BOT then gave Lee and the housekeepers a standing ovation, thanking them for their organizing and service to the University. Afterwards, Guskiewicz reaffirmed Boliek’s sentiments and said his office has been “working overtime” to reach the North Carolina Office of State Human Resources, which is in charge of setting salaries for non-faculty and non-contract University employees, to address the issue. 

“We are committed to this,” Guskiewicz said. “And I just wanted to echo everything that Chair Boliek said. We’re grateful for all you and your colleagues do for us. Thank you.”

Multiple campus organizations including the Residence Hall Association, The Workers Union, UNC's Black Student Movement and the Union of Black Men at UNC Chapel Hill are hosting an event to support resident housekeepers on Friday, Nov. 18, at Woollen Gym.


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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.