UNC Campus Workers File Lawsuit, Say Work Conditions Unsafe

August 13, 2020

RALEIGH, N.C. — Campus workers in the University of North Carolina system have filed a lawsuit saying working conditions are unsafe and that workers are reporting for work with inadequate protective equipment amid the COVID-19 outbreak.

Some university employees, including housekeepers and other campus workers, are provided one or two masks per week and many don’t have access to face shields or gowns, The News & Observer of Raleigh reported Tuesday, citing a statement from the N.C. Public Service Workers Union.

The case was filed in Wake County on Monday and seeks class-action status.

The policy failures also “inevitably fall hardest on Black and Brown workers’ shoulders, putting them at risk during a pandemic that disproportionately impacts their health,” the union said.

Jermany Alston, UNC-Chapel Hill housekeeper, union member and lead plaintiff, helped lead a protest and deliver demands to university administrators explaining the threat that university workers face every day when they go to work.

“We bring UNC the concerns and the administrators say they’re going to fix it, but nothing ever comes of it,” Alston said in a statement. “It gets swept under the rug.”

The group, which represents housekeepers, professors and other staff, is asking the court to require that the UNC System “fulfill its non-delegable duty to provide conditions of employment and a place of employment free of hazards that are likely to cause serious harm, even death, to employees,” according to the union.

Herb Richmond, director of UNC-Chapel Hill’s Housekeeping Services Department, said he was talking with campus leaders about how the school can adapt to address their concerns and provide crews with the protective equipment they need to do their jobs safely and feel comfortable on campus.

The lead plaintiffs include members of the North Carolina American Association of University Professors. The lawsuit comes after weeks of campus protests and petitions from university students, staff and faculty who are concerned about universities’ reopening plans and fear COVID-19 will spread during the fall semester.

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