'Not just about the students:' UNC housekeepers petition for more COVID-19 safety measures as students return to campus

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Wednesday, July 22, 2020
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'Not just about the students:' UNC housekeepers petition for more COVID-19 safety measures as students return to campus

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (WTVD) -- Wednesday, UNC housekeepers rallied and delivered a petition for upgraded safety demands ahead of the new school year in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Students are slated to return to the UNC campus on Aug. 10. According to the North Carolina Public Service Workers Union, some departments are providing employees with as few as one to two masks per week.

LIST: North Carolina university, college COVID-19 plans for the 2020-2021 school year

"This is not about us not working weekends. This is not about wages. This is life and death," said housekeeper Tracy Harter. "We have employees that are afraid to sign a petition. They're afraid to stand up where we are and everything, because they need their jobs."

The union said multiple workers have tested positive for COVID-19 in addition to local health officials finding a cluster within the UNC athletics department earlier this summer.

"I'll put it this way: the total lack of transparency. I think that it sums it up best by saying we feel like we're walking blindfolded through a minefield with clown shoes," said Harter.


"It's not just about the students, it's about the workers," said Penny Elliot, UNC housekeeper crew leader. "I think that is what's getting mixed around that the university is concerned with the students' health but they're not concerned with the workers' health."

Over 300 workers and students signed the petition.

Demands in the petition include:

  • Clear written protocol for quarantining staff and students who screen or test positive for COVID-19.
  • Adopt consistent policies across departments for accommodations that comply with HIPAA and ADA.
  • Adequate protective equipment (1 mask per shift and gloves, face shields and gowns, where necessary).
  • Daily COVID-19 symptom screening for all staff and students on campus by professional personnel.
  • Make teaching in-person optional for all faculty and graduate workers without demanding reason or cause.
  • Two weeks of additional sick leave should be provided to all university employees.
  • Restore full administrative leave for ALL university employees including temporary workers.
  • Increase funding for UNC's Child Care Services Association (CCSA) and expand eligible coverage to every single child of all university workers including part-time and temporary.
  • Provide safe transportation and free parking for all workers.
  • Provide a seat at the table for the Workers Union at UNC (UE Local 150) leaders in each department to meet with university administrators and management to ensure safety measures.

The petition was handed off to UNC Housekeeping Director Herb Richmond.