Georgia College Employee Union Sends Open Letter To University President

[MILLEDGEVILLE, GA December 29—]This morning, the Georgia College (GC) chapter of the United Campus Workers of Georgia (UCWGA) and community supporters sent an open letter to GC president, Dr. Steve Dorman, to demand ongoing contact tracing and mandatory COVID-19 testing for all students, faculty, and staff before returning to campus for spring semester, which begins on Jan. 19. 

The letter comes on the heels of a semester where between 10.7 and 12.6% of students and approximately 4.2% of employees at GC self-reported testing positive for COVID-19, with a total of 774 cases. A COVID-19 outbreak at the beginning of the fall semester thrust GC into the national spotlight

“Georgia College must mandate Covid-19 testing before students, faculty, and staff are allowed to return for the spring semester,” the union writes in their letter. “Preemptive testing and ongoing contact tracing will mitigate the spread of the virus on-campus and off-campus.” 

GC’s administration, in keeping with a resolution approved by the University System of Georgia Board of Regents, is prioritizing in-person instruction for the spring semester, despite a recent White House  Coronavirus Task Force report citing moderate to high rates of COVID-19 spread in more than four-fifths of Georgia counties and labeling 83% of Georgia counties as in the red zone. 

Furthermore, health experts have uncovered a link between COVID-19 outbreaks at universities and deaths within their larger communities. The UCWGA-GC believes students returning to campus from all over Georgia and outside of the state without knowing their COVID-19 status would create unsafe conditions. 

“The beginning of the fall semester led to a huge rise of cases on campus, including some that required hospitalization,” said Denechia Powell, a GC graduate assistant and co-chair of UCWGA-GC. “We need to do our best to prevent that. The local ICU is already full. Hospitalizations are on the rise. We must act to protect our community.” 

The union has yet to receive a response from President Dorman regarding their August petition asking for remote working and learning options at GC. Following the success of other UCWGA chapters’ die-in protests, the group held their own at GC on Aug. 28 that received local, statewide, and national press

Since July, union members have fought for better COVID-19 protections, including choice in remote working and learning options, free on-campus testing, quarantine housing for students, hazard pay for frontline staff,  and no layoffs in the event of campus closure. On Sept. 10, only a few weeks after the die-in, GC Student Health Services instated free on-campus COVID-19 testing for students. 

The UCWGA-GC is still accepting co-signers on their open letter from groups and organizations at GC, and in the surrounding communities. Current community co-signers include the Baldwin County Federation of Democratic Women, Hancock County Democratic Club, Inc., and Sparta-Hancock County NAACP. If your community organization would like to sign on in support, fill out this form

In addition to this open letter, the United Campus Workers of Georgia Local 3265 has a three-fold plan to survive Covid-19 during spring 2021 at USG campuses.