COVID-19: UGA Union Members Push Back

On March 12th, 2020, the University of Georgia responded to COVID-19 by suspending face-to-face instruction for two weeks as workers implemented “business continuity plans” and prepared for the shift to online learning. Following Governor Brian Kemp’s order that all state employees work from home, UGA faculty, including graduate teaching assistants, temporarily suspended instruction and some staff began to work from home.

The United Campus Workers of Georgia UGA Chapter responded swiftly to UGA’s decision and called for more equity and solidarity for university employees. On March 13th, we published a press release supporting the suspension as an effective social distancing protocol to protect workers. However, we demanded further steps to protect UGA staff, many of whom could not work from home and were still at high-risk. We were concerned about child care needs due to school closures, immunocompromised workers who might lack leave time, and many staff members who require additional jobs because they don’t earn a living wage at the University. These vulnerabilities would potentially increase the exposure rate and put our community at risk. Our union rallied together because workers should never have to choose between their livelihood and their safety. 

In our initial press release, UCWGA-UGA called on UGA administration to implement: 1) Emergency paid leave at current wages for all staff regardless of classification and/or EFT status during suspended instruction; 2) Guaranteed pay for all UGA employees, hourly and salaried, at current wages in the event of complete campus closure; 3) Double wages for all essential personnel with the option to use emergency paid leave; 4) Free campus parking for staff during suspended instruction; 5) Cleaning supplies for all campus units during suspended instruction; and 6) Reduction in building hours (library, MLC, etc.) during suspended instruction. 

On March 16th, our demands were published in an op-ed in The Red & Black. Four days later, UGA Transportation & Parking Services announced a policy meeting our demands for free parking for faculty and staff for the duration of the semester and refunded those that already paid. We then organized a day of collective action on March 23rd asking employees to call and email UGA President Morehead, Chancellor Wrigley, and our local representatives to meet our demands. That same day, President Morehead granted emergency paid leave for all nonessential employees who cannot telework. These wins show the power of our ongoing pressure and organizing efforts.

We stand in solidarity with statewide efforts to ensure all USG campuses are taking equitable measures in regards to rights, pay, and safety precautions for all employees. Our chapter has shown that working together results in tangible change benefitting workers. UCWGA-UGA will persist in collaborating with local organizing efforts and fighting for our ongoing demands during this public health crisis. 

Are you an employee of the Univeristy of Georgia who has been impacted by COVID-19? We want to hear from you directly. Please fill out our survey to help guide our future efforts in taking action on behalf of workers affected by COVID-19. This survey is completely voluntary and your responses will remain confidential, only UCWGA-UGA organizers will have access to the provided information.