The Daily Tar Heel
Printing news. Raising hell. Since 1893.
Sunday, Dec. 3, 2023 Newsletters Latest print issue

We keep you informed.

Help us keep going. Donate Today.
The Daily Tar Heel

'We just need more damn money': UNC Housekeepers continue to advocate for change

UNC houskeeper Robin lee poses outside of Kenan Residence Hall on Sep. 21, 2023.

UNC housekeepers started organizing for $20 per hour wages and free parking in September of 2022, and they say not much has changed since they started. 

Neither demand has been met fully by the University and housekeeper leaders say the last change they saw was a 90-cent raise in December, bringing their base wage rate to $16.81. In May, they formed their own co-chapter of The Workers Union specifically for campus workers, but even within the group, many members say they aren’t sure how to keep momentum going to create change. 

Robin Lee, the president of the housekeeper co-chapter, said she’s thinking of retiring in the spring. She’s been having health problems: hip pains so bad she has been taking time off — something Lee says she “never does.” She’s not sure if they stem from her housekeeping work, her second job or something else. 

“I feel like giving up and I don't want to give up,” she said. “It just seems like it’s not changing. I’ve done been to the legislature three times since this started and still nothing’s changing.”

On the other hand, the co-chapter's vice president Tracy Harter said she wants to focus more on organizing for other causes, like addressing campus safety after the Aug. 28 shooting.

“It’s something different than $20 an hour and free parking,” she said. “To me, this is something that’s much more serious, and we’re much more likely to get national attention on it.”

Lee and Harter said housekeepers are still planning to have meetings with guidance from The Workers Union at UNC, which helped them raise concerns to the Board of Trustees during one of their meetings last spring. All of the unions' planned meetings this semester have been pushed back because of University days off and lockdowns. 

“It’s hard to focus on it right now,” Harter said. “But we’ll get back to organizing soon.”

Dante Strobino, a UE International Representative, has been working with the housekeepers since they joined the union in 1997. He said UE isn’t giving up on the housekeepers, they’ve just been approaching the issue differently lately. 

“We have a lot to do,” Strobino said. “We have to do the direct internal work of strengthening and building the union, but we also have to do bigger work of understanding the political system and how state employee raises are funded.”

According to an email statement from the University, housekeeper wages are set by North Carolina's Career-Banding System. The most recent state budget, which passed last Friday, included a seven percent pay increase for state employees over the next two years, which the University said would apply to housekeepers.  The University also said some housekeepers’ wages will exceed the banded limit according to this legislative change. 

“It doesn’t even keep up with the cost of living,” Strobino said about the pay increase. “And we don’t even know how that’s going to affect the UNC system. It definitely isn’t enough for everyone else asking for more money.”

Strobino has also been organizing with many city workers of Durham for the past month, who have similar demands to the housekeepers — specifically higher pay — and who he said have been similarly ignored. 

“With the strike in Durham, and the overall crisis with the state legislature, we really need student activists to step up,” he said. “They need to help us build the union, help us link up with the housekeepers and help us build a broader coalition.” 

The co-president of the Campus Y, Imani Rankins, said her organization is going to continue to support housekeepers this year and expressed a similar approach to Strobino — targeting the state legislature. 

In the meantime, Rankins said she wants students to continue to support housekeepers in smaller ways.

“Even though there might not be a rally right now, even though you’re not seeing as many petitions as a student, you’re still seeing workers every single day," Rankins said. “So take a moment to think about how much of a load they have, how much they do for you and continue to be kind.”

UNC housekeeper Robin Lee cleans the bathroom window in Kenan Residence Hall on Sep. 25, 2023.

Lee said even though she’s noticed more student support since housekeepers started holding rallies last fall, their demands have been consistent for a reason. 

“It’s the same thing as that mess in Durham, it’s the same thing as my daughter — she’s a public school teacher,” she said. “We just need more damn money. We need money to live. We’re working and working, keeping everything running. We deserve to get paid enough to live.” 

To get the day's news and headlines in your inbox each morning, sign up for our email newsletters.


@dailytarheel |

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.