UNC students, maintenance workers hold sit-in
Posted April 7, 2011
Updated April 8, 2011
Chapel Hill, N.C. — Maintenance workers and students at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill held a sit-in Thursday to protest proposed changes to employees' work schedules.
Dozens of maintenance workers and students rallied on the steps of the South Building at noon. Students chanted, "Workers' rights are human rights."
UNC administrators want to end an option for maintenance employees to work four 10-hour days each week and return them to five eight-hour days. The university started the program in 2008, when gas prices hit $4 per gallon. About 70 of the 181 people on the maintenance staff take advantage of the option.
"I support these guys because I know it works for some of them who are taking care of children, elderly parents, working a second job, chasing an education, whatever," said electrician Chuck Brink.
"It's the only thing we have left that's holding morale together," Brink said.
Other workers say they use the extra day off to take care of personal errands that otherwise would cost them a personal day. "If I got appointments, I can use that day off to set up appointments like the doctor," said Benny Burton.
Burton used a day of leave to participate in the sit-in. He said the longer work day means maintenance can be done outside of the hours when campus facilities are busiest.
"You can get more done in a 10-hour period than you can in an eight," said Burton, who has worked for UNC for six years. "It not only saves for us, but it will save for the university."
Chancellor Holden Thorp said as the campus tightens the belt – the university has eliminated 31 maintenance positions over the past two years – it needs to be able to cover shifts five days a week. "We can't do it all the time, because it's hard to get coverage," he said.
A memo to employees explained that the overall staff reduction meant there were shifts where too few people were on the clock. Returning all workers to a five-day-a-week schedule will make scheduling more efficient, the memo said, without adding to the university's $645 million backlog in deferred maintenance.
Thorp said he feels for the workers. "We're not able to accommodate folks right now, and I hate that," he said.