UCWGA Resumes Protest of Unsafe Reopening Conditions (8/17/20)

With the fall semester set to resume on August 20, UGA’s reopening plans are still inadequate and ultimately imperil students, workers, the Athens community, and citizens of Georgia. On Monday August 17, UGA graduate student workers, staff, and faculty from the United Campus Workers of Georgia assembled in front of the Arch (masked and socially distanced) protesting UGA’s plans that prioritize profits over people, the dangerous campus conditions, and demanding safer reopening conditions with no layoffs. 

Instead of inspiring confidence, UGA and the BOR's slow replies to petitions and multiple open letters have inspired fear and disappointment. In a webinar last Tuesday, a UGA Dean said that any student testing positive for COVID-19 should "leave campus immediately," protecting the campus but exposing that student's family and the greater Georgia community to additional outbreaks. When asked how many cases or deaths would trigger a shutdown, Morehead deferred to the USG, which might not be able to adequately assess the on-the-ground realities of individual campuses, including the current capacity of local hospitals. Faith in the USG has long since dissipated after it took petitions from around the state to mandate masks, a basic requirement. There were many more concerns raised by the webinar than were alleviated.  Furthermore, despite UGA spending over 6 million dollars in safety measures, there are ongoing concerns that these measures are insufficient. Plexiglass shields in classrooms are not high enough. Buildings with old HVAC units will not be able to clean the air. An Archnews email on August 12 on behalf of VP Wilson reads: “Anticipate and make a plan for if you, a roommate or a friend becomes ill. Also plan for if a family member back home becomes ill and for other scenarios that might impact your semester.” Telling students to have a plan is itself not an adequate university-wide plan .

The UGA chapter of UCWGA has repeated conveyed the followings demands: 

1) Data transparency about positive testing cases. We all have a right to know our workplace risks. 

2) A clear plan about quarantining, proof of quarantine spaces, stating the capacity of each and where overflow cases will go, and a clear threshold of positive cases that would trigger a campus closure. 

3) All UGA instructors and teaching assistants may opt-out of face-to-face instruction and instead teach remotely with no penalties for accommodations; no employee will need to disclose personal health concerns to opt-out; no staff person should be required to work on campus if they can fulfill their job responsibilities off campus. 

4) Hazard pay for all essential employees who cannot work remotely, and payment of back hazard pay for their work since March 16 

5) Guaranteed paid leave when an employee is required to be in quarantine or isolation due to COVID-19 (even after the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA)’s two week limit).

6) In the case of campus closure, guaranteed pay for all workers regardless of FTE, including those who cannot work remotely.

Speaking to the need to protest for safety and equity, Justin Simpson, a fifth year graduate student in philosophy, stated, “I do not feel comfortable with what UGA is asking of its instructors. The current plans were hatched before there was an increase in cases in the state of Georgia. UGA has issued a “Preparing to Pivot” eLC course for instructors, but the administration itself has not pivoted their public reopening plans. While I appreciate the administration’s hard work, I think they have seriously underestimated the very real and complex problem of stopping the spread of COVID. Without these necessary measures in place, resuming classes poses a threat to students, workers, and the community. I do not think an employer should ever ask an employee to endanger another person, let alone threaten their job if they do not comply”.

 

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