UNC-Chapel Hill housekeepers want more protective gear, sick days

Posted July 22, 2020 5:02 p.m. EDT
Updated July 22, 2020 6:52 p.m. EDT

— With students set to return to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill campus in two weeks, the housekeepers responsible for cleaning dormitories on Wednesday presented a list of safety demands related to the coronavirus pandemic to university officials.

"The university is concerned with the students’ health, but they are not concerned with the workers’ health," said Penny Elliott, a housekeeping crew leader who delivered a petition signed by about 300 workers to administrators.

The petition calls for more masks, face shields and other protective gear for housekeeping staff, daily temperature checks for employees, at least two extra weeks of paid sick leave for people infected with the virus and help with child care expenses.

"We got families, too. We have to go home with our families, and if someone gets sick, that puts us at risk of taking it home with us," Elliott said.

“This is life and death," housekeeper Tracy Harter agreed.

Workers said they’re limited to one mask per week.

"We are making sure they get masks upon request," Director of Housekeeping Services Herb Richmond said. "We have all the protections. We follow CDC guidelines, the guidelines set up by Environmental Health Services, and we have done extensive training inside of housekeeping."

Harter also wants more transparency from administrators regarding infections on campus, such as the dozens of student-athletes and staff who have tested positive since early June.

"We feel like we are walking blindfolded through a minefield with clown shoes," she said.

The housekeepers aren't the only ones at UNC-Chapel Hill petitioning administrators, trustees and the UNC Board of Governors to reconsider the plan to resume classes on campus in August.

More than 3,200 faculty and staff members have signed an online petition calling for holding classes online, increased testing for the virus on campus and more tracking of infections and more protective gear for employees.

"Nobody has a monopoly on a good idea," Harter said. "Bring us to the table. Let us share what our thoughts and concerns are.”

University officials have said they are committed to keeping students and staff safe. They are requiring that everyone wear masks on campus – housekeepers say many students who have been on campus this summer aren't complying – and have installed signage for one-way traffic and social distancing in buildings.

All employees will be required to complete online training for how to reduce virus transmission, and they will have to sanitize their hands every hour. All tools and equipment used by employees will be disinfected after each shift.

No mass testing of students is planned, however.

"We hear these concerns from our staff members, and their feedback is important. We’re making sure our groundskeepers and housekeepers have access to the personal protective equipment they need to safely do their jobs," Darius Dixon, executive director of Facilities Operations at UNC-Chapel Hill, said in a statement.

Craige North and Parker residence halls will be prioritized for isolation and quarantine of students who have tested positive or were in close contact with an infected person, officials said. An outside contractor will clean those two dormitories as needed, they said.

Our commenting policy has changed. If you would like to comment, please share on social media using the icons below and comment there.