The UNC System works because we do.
On July 17th, 2020, we put UNC on notice: expect our continued intervention to demand that our System's COVID-19 response put people over profits.
Housekeeper, UNC Charlotte
“We want a seat at the table. Now they are trying to force us to start shifts at 3am, which is impossible for our families. Front line workers, students, facility and all of us have serious health and safety concerns. The administration is making changes even before the students get here, and we don’t have all the information about what’s happening. They sent out all kinds of emails and it’s all a mess."
Housekeeper, UNC Chapel Hill
"I have cleaned the rooms that the football players have been in, and I don’t know what rooms the ones who tested positive were in or who has it or if have I come in contact with them. It’s scary for me because then I have to go home, and if I do have it, then I put my family at risk as well. The only thing we wear right now is gloves and a mask. That’s all. I don’t even think we should be back at work. It’s like a lose-lose situation. You don’t know which way to go. You don’t know who has it."
The UNC System calls itself a "treasured institution dedicated to serving the people of North Carolina". We believe all UNC workers – including campus workers, graduate workers, undergraduate workers, and faculty –are the keystone to the institution. It is the people of UNC that must be treasured and protected. We cannot serve North Carolinians if we are dead.
Though we are branding this as a Day of Action, this is only the first of many days of sustained action until the UNC System rescinds its shortsighted and catastrophic "plans" to reopening its 16 campus communities for the Fall 2020 semester. We will continue our struggle until we successfully prevent this public disaster.
Our individual campuses and communities are highly diverse, and so too are our needs during this public health crisis and unprecedented social uprising. However, through the grassroots organization of workers across the UNC System, several common themes have emerged. We present these themes below as a Counter-Narrative Strategy Framework to UNC's messaging.
Not if, but when. With the numbers as they are, it is not a matter of if but when a move to all online courses or full shutdown will be required this Fall.
In fact, the time to move courses online* is now. Given the metrics re: cases in North Carolina, we will be putting all 16 UNC campus communities at serious risk if we return. Let's make remote/online classes the default and give all employees assurances that they will be safe from COVID-19 infection by providing instructional staff with a guarantee that they can teach safely from off-campus location and by providing non-instructional staff with paid leave at full pay during the period that campuses are closed due to the pandemic.
There is a false trade-off between financial health and public health. UNC administrators insist that there are compelling financial reasons to open our campuses in the Fall. However, if we proceed, the devastating public health consequences to our UNC System institutions and surrounding communities will also be financial disasters, arguably much worse than what we face by not returning to campus. In addition, we risk losing public trust. Once people get sick – or worse – parents, students, and workers alike will be much less likely to trust UNC.
This situation points to a larger crisis in NC higher education. The pandemic is revealing the systemic inequities of the institution, and the ways in which public education and other public services have been continuously defunded, deprioritized, and privatized in public budgets over recent decades. We will need to address the underlying issues. Meanwhile, no UNC System employee should lose or suffer cuts to their job or benefits.
We are all in this together. SARS-CoV-2 does not distinguish between class, race, or academic credentials – even if the power to decide our level of exposure is not equally distributed. We want what is best for the students and workers of UNC. We are committed to putting people before profits and ensuring the health and safety of all.
*International and undocumented students and workers are especially vulnerable. UNC leaders must to do everything necessary to protect them from both deportation/ICE and COVID-19 while not using them as a bargaining chip for having face-to-face instruction.