Letter to the Editor: Uphold the dignity of UNC campus workers

Last year, UNC announced the most ambitious fundraising campaign in its history, called “For All Kind: The Campaign for Carolina.” On the campaign’s website, University administrators claim they are “devoted to every life, every hardship and every breakthrough.” At the same time, some of the campus’ most vulnerable workers — who serve us food, clean our buildings and generally keep the University running — do not have adequate access to grievance documents, which protect them from retaliation and unfair treatment. UNC’s administration should not only be “devoted” to students and faculty, but also should also uphold the dignity of the University’s campus workers.

We, the Workers Union at UNC UE Local 150, organize around workplace issues on our campus. Central to our purpose is the ability of campus and graduate student workers to effectively file grievances against their supervisors and employer.

It is from this perspective that the Workers’ Union at UNC issues the following demands to UNC administration concerning the current state of the grievance procedures for State Human Resources Act (SHRA) employees:

1. We demand that UNC translate all official grievance documents into Spanish, Burmese and Karen.

2. We demand that UNC make SHRA grievance documents more widely accessible, specifically that the University make hard copies of these documents in the aforementioned languages easily available in every workplace on campus.

4. We demand that a detailed explanation of the grievance process and labor protection laws be included in all UNC and UNC vendor/contractor job orientations.

Desde esta perspectiva, demandamos lo siguiente de la administración de UNC con respecto al estado actual de los procedimientos de quejas para los empleados cubiertos por la State Human Resources Act (SHRA):

1. Exigimos que UNC traduzca todos los documentos oficiales de reclamos al español, birmano y karen.

2. Exigimos que UNC haga que los documentos de quejas de SHRA sean más accesibles, específicamente que la universidad haga copias impresas de estos documentos en los idiomas antes mencionados que sean de fácil acceso en todos los lugares de trabajo en el campus.

3. Exigimos que UNC elimine las limitaciones de tiempo para presentar documentos de reclamos.

4. Exigimos que se incluya una explicación detallada del proceso de reclamos y las leyes de protección laboral en todas las orientaciones laborales de UNC.

Approximately 40 percent of UNC’s housekeepers do not speak English as a first language. Many are Burmese- (or Karen-) speaking refugees from Myanmar and nearby regions in Southeast Asia or speak Spanish as their primary language.

The University is aware that a language barrier exists. In both 2011 and 2013, UNC hired PRM Consulting Group to survey housekeeper working conditions, and the firm reported on communication difficulties. In response, last year UNC published instructions for interpreting pay stubs in Spanish, Burmese, and Karen. Yet the grievance policy, which is crucial to worker protections, remains inaccessible to a large portion of UNC’s workforce.

By failing to make these documents accessible, despite having the resources to provide translations, the University has chosen not to prioritize worker protection. We find this neglect to be particularly egregious considering the historical and well-documented sexual harassment housekeepers at UNC have endured at the hands of supervisors.

Furthermore, UNC allows only a narrow window of 15 days for grievances to be filed. This policy is restrictive and is especially troubling in context: workers have expressed confusion with the process of filing a grievance, frustration with the lack of human rights personnel available to follow-up on complaints and difficulty with accessing the necessary documents online.

The University has an ethical obligation to make the grievance policy accessible to workers by offering translations, training workers on their labor rights, increasing the amount of time workers have to file a grievance and making relevant documents readily available to UNC’s campus workers in their workplaces.

We believe that better access to and understanding of grievance documents is necessary to promote the well-being of campus workers. This is only a first step, though. UNC workers, for example, have also reported frustration with the University’s failure to make workplace safety information accessible. If UNC financially benefits from the idea that it is a university “For all Kind,” though, it is must be consistent with these declared principles in its treatment of workers.

The Workers Union at UNC, UE Local 150

Originally published in the Daily Tar Heel on January 29, 2019

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: