Statement of Expectations for Worker Health and Safety for Academic Year 2020-2021
In response to the University of Alabama System’s Comprehensive Health and Safety Plan, we the undersigned University of Alabama staff, students, faculty, and community members offer a statement of our expectations for campus health and safety in the upcoming academic year.
Many UA community members are concerned about their health and safety on campus during the upcoming semester. With COVID-19 infections continuing to rise and hundreds of Americans dying every day from the illness, these concerns are justified. Current CDC guidelines suggest that older adults and people with underlying health conditions are at increased risk for sever infection and death. Inadequate preparation and response puts these community members and their families at increased risk. Additionally, COVID-19 disproportionately impacts Black, Indigenous and Latinx communities that have been excluded from our country's for-profit health care system and that regularly face discriminatory and inadequate care when access is available. Adequately preparing the University for a return to campus and maintaining a robust health-care structure throughout the academic year is therefore not only an issue of workplace safety but of racial justice on campus and in the wider Tuscaloosa community.
While recommendations for mandatory mask use, social distancing, flexibility with class format, and robust testing and tracing offer a solid foundation for the physical aspects of health on campus, many of the System's recommendations include caveats like "when available" that leave the door open for under-preparedness, inaction and neglect. Additionally, the UA System Comprehensive Plan made no mention of employment policies, contingency plans for severe outbreaks on campus or in local communities, or structures of accountability for decision makers. It is the university's moral responsibility to its workers, students and community to adapt its employment policies to ensure safety for workers and the broader University community.
To ensure a safe and equitable return to campus operations, the university must make decisions regarding compensation, benefits, and campus health and safety in accordance with the principles of shared governance. In this we echo the letter to the president from the UA Faculty Senate and urge that such decisions be made in consultation with faculty and staff representative bodies and communicated in a transparent and timely manner. In addition, to promote continuity for students and lower the burden on the individual faculty members, departments must be given the power to develop continuity plans for the courses of faculty who may be required to self-isolate or care for sick family members, including but not limited to a plan for temporary remote or hybrid teaching and/or substitutes.
We have the following expectations for UA's plan for campus safety in the event of a return to in-person University operations:
1) As a public institution with the mission to serve the people of Alabama and as an important part of the Tuscaloosa community UA should not require that its most vulnerable employees shoulder the burden of this epidemic.
a) The University will prioritize the preservation of employment, with reductions to campus budget being met first by the university’s endowment and cuts to administrative pay, rather than layoffs and pay cuts to the lowest-paid workers.
b) The University will make decisions concerning regular health screening of workers and students by considering health and safety, not cost.
c) The university will ensure that faculty and staff are given adequate paid leave to ensure their safety and that of students without jeopardizing their own and their family’s financial well-being. This includes not only 14 days paid leave upon a COVID-19 diagnosis, but necessary quarantine and family leave.
d) The University will cover healthcare costs related to COVID-19 for faculty and staff.
e) The University reinstate health insurance benefits for all FTTIs on one-year contracts.
2) The University will provide students, staff, and faculty with adequate testing, treatment and Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) including masks, gloves, hand sanitizer, and point of sale protective shielding.
a) The University will provide no-cost PPE until a vaccine is available.
b) The University will provide the vaccine at no cost when it is available.
c) The University will pay for PPE with funds that do not count against the budget for any organizational unit.
3) The University will create safe working conditions and empower workers to make decisions about the safety of their workspaces.
a) Safe room capacity will be determined by availability of space for adequate social distancing (six feet) and not by a percentage of standard occupancy limits.
b) When classroom size does not allow for adequate social distancing, modifications will be made to course schedules and formats, including moving portions of instruction to on-line platforms and modifying attendance requirements and procedures.
c) Staff designated Tier 2 will be granted the trust and flexibility to continue to work from home.
d) Student workers will be paid for their regularly scheduled hours in the event of illness, quarantine or family leave, and will receive pay for the entire semester regardless of campus closure.
e) The health of our community as a whole is dependent on the health of each worker on campus individually, without exception for those employed indirectly. UA will hold contractors to the same standard regarding paid sick and family leave.
f) The University will open athletic events only after proper steps have been taken to ensure their safety (including providing PPE and taking steps to minimize athletic workers’ exposure to large crowds) and the workers have democratically approved the adequacy of these steps. Workers who elect not to participate in their respective seasons due to concerns over COVID will receive the funds that had been previously allocated to them--whether salary, stipend, or scholarship. Workers will be able to withdraw (either individually or collectively, by voting to suspend public athletic events) at any time throughout the year without repercussion.
4) The University will operate with full transparency and with truly representative shared governance as it responds to the ongoing COVID-19 epidemic.
a) The University will publicly release its plans to provide universal access to testing and PPE by the end of June. In the event that universal testing is unavailable by the start of the semester, the University will offer a public explanation, hold leadership accountable, and not allow the university to return to normal operation until universal testing is possible.
b) The University’s Incident Command Center (ICC) will include representation from staff and faculty of all ranks who will be empowered to speak to the realities of life on campus in classrooms, office, and other shared spaces that administrators do not regularly access.
c) The University will enforce health and safety standards equitably across campus divisions and establish and promote a system independent of the ICC for workers to report unsafe working conditions anonymously and without fear of retaliation.
d) The University and the ICC will regularly solicit feedback from workers and students and will implement a plan for public accountability to health and safety concerns.