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"This is a ‘you have no choice’ issue": UNC Workers Union discusses campus safety

Graduate students discuss campus safety at the UNC Worker Safety Forum on Thursday, Sept. 28, 2023. The event was hosted by the UNC Workers Union.

Tracy Harter, a UNC housekeeper for 17 years, said that, to her, UNC is "a place of smoke and mirrors” when it comes to campus safety. 

In a meeting organized by The Workers Union at UNC, a chapter of UE Local 150, members gathered in Caldwell Hall Thursday evening to share their feelings about University safety, security and mental health services.

Harter is the vice president of the Workers Union campus workers co-chapter. During the discussion, she said it’s important for the UNC administration to know that workers won't forget about the Aug. 28 shooting in Caudill Labs. 

Housekeepers are still waiting for the University to address their two demands from September 2022 – $20 per hour and free parking– despite mounting pressure and numerous public protests. 

“20 dollars an hour and free parking is an ask. It’s a need, but it’s an ask,” Harter said. “[Campus safety] is a must. This is a ‘you have no choice’ issue.” 

While the Union hasn’t released official demands in connection to campus safety, the meeting provided an opportunity for workers to express their emotions.

Harter recounted her experience with the first lockdown. She said the events didn’t hit her until the second day she came back to work. 

“That’s when it really started getting to me. It still does sometimes. It chokes you up,” Harter said. 

This isn’t the first time that the UNC Workers Union has advocated for safer campus conditions. Last year, the Union released a statement condemning the University for lead contamination in campus drinking water.

“These workplace violations are unjust, unacceptable and putting hundreds at risk of injury and poor long-term health,” the statement read. 

Promoted on their Instagram as “a space to speak your mind about how the University needs to change to be a safer workplace,” the Sept. 28 meeting included a conversation about the Alert Carolina system. 

“The whole Alert Carolina system is fucked,” Cayla Colclasure, a UNC graduate student at the event, said.

Harter said that housekeepers wonder why the Alert Carolina system doesn’t have a Spanish option. Other attendees noted how fire alarms have a flashing element to accommodate deaf community members and questioned if a similar system could be replicated for Alert Carolina sirens. 

Still, Natalia Mushegian, a graduate student, said it’s important to recognize that a “techno solution” doesn’t address the core issue, which is gun violence on campuses.

“It makes my skin crawl a little bit when the actual problem is not insufficient text messages," Mushegian said.

The group also talked about mental health resources for campus workers. Similar to the concerns with Alert Carolina, members discussed the number of languages offered by Counseling and Psychological Services.

“For international grad students, even if you’re fluent in English, I can’t imagine trying to do therapy in my second language,” Colclasure said. “That just seems like an extra barrier.”  

Mushegian said she noticed that when there is a campus emergency, it is followed by two weeks of emails about available counseling services. 

“It's not something that should be reactionary. It needs to be something that is consistently there, always there and more accessible,” she said. 

The group plans to continue the conversation around worker safety. 

Nikhil Kothegal, the treasurer of the graduate workers co-chapter, said that the meeting was intended to create a space for people to share their stories. He also said he hopes to build what was shared at the meeting into something empowering.

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“We want to build a safe campus, and I think organizing is a strong way to do it,” he said.


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