Education

UNC-Chapel Hill workers fear returning to campus amid pandemic

Posted July 2, 2020 8:22 p.m. EDT
Updated July 3, 2020 4:53 p.m. EDT

— As area universities prepare for the return of students to campus next month, concerns are growing for how to protect workers from coronavirus.

David Brannigan, who has worked for 16 years as a groundskeeper at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, said Thursday that it's not feasible to bring maintenance and custodial workers back to campus in a little over four weeks without an extensive safety plan in place.

"Sitting in your office processing grants? That’s not that dangerous," Brannigan said. "Being on campus, emptying trash cans, being around when thousands of students change classes, that exposes groundskeepers, electricians, plumbers, that exposes them to a very great and real danger."

Housekeepers could be at greatest risk from the pandemic once the fall semester starts, he said.

"I've made inquiries about what’s being done to protect housekeeping, who are predominantly Black and minority workers," he said. "I've heard nothing."

UNC-Chapel Hill officials said it has guidelines in place for employees to complete online training courses on how to minimize the spread of the virus. Staffers also will be required to wear masks and other protective gear and to wash their hands every hour. All tools or equipment will be disinfected before and after each shift, officials said.

"We are prioritizing the health and safety of our campus community, including all of our employees, in all of our plans for the Fall 2020 academic semester," Becci Menghini, vice chancellor for human resources and equal opportunity and compliance, said in a statement.

Hundreds of graduate students and campus workers have signed a petition stating they don’t feel it’s safe to return to UNC-Chapel Hill this fall. The petition calls for hazard pay and stockpiles of protective gear for workers and urges classes be held online and that any students on campus be housed in private rooms for social distancing.

University officials have already said all students will be required to wear masks on campus. Students are expected to return the week of Aug. 3, with classes starting Aug. 10.

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