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Campus workers union requests online classes and hazard pay

The union, made up of workers on college and university campuses across the state, believe schools reopened too quickly for safety

Faculty and staff at universities across Tennessee voiced their concerns Thursday about COVID-19 safety on campus.

The members of the United Campus Workers union are calling on administrators and officials to take more measures to protect workers. 

Adiministrators "have chosen to bring thousands of students into a small, compact, tightly-knit community and seem to think that controlling the classrooms will control the virus. It's naive," said Tom Anderson, a UT Facilities Services employee.

The union wants all Tennessee colleges and universities to move all classes online, provide hazard pay for front line workers, and prevent pay cuts for employees that make less than $50,000 a year.

Many say they're frustrated with how leaders are handling the situation. 

"The question I have for administration is how many lives is it going to take? How many students, staff, and faculty have to suffer, suffering death, before administrators decide enough is enough," said Anderson.

UCW Members speak out against reckless re-opening, call for safety

UCW United Campus Workers calls on Governor Bill Lee, the Tennessee General Assembly, and campus leadership to put the health and safety of students, employees, and the community first by implementing the following: 1. Move to online classes for the safety of our students, staff, and faculty, and all of our communities across our state. 2. Provide hazard pay for all front-line workers who have been on campus fighting the spread COVID spread directly. 3. Fund budget shortfalls using the state's rainy day fund and invest in higher education as a driver of economic growth. 4. We call on Gov. Lee to support the public institutions of the state, especially public education. This is a state-wide crisis and our campus leadership have been left on their own, with no coordinated statewide leadership from the state. More than that, they are facing serious budget cuts due to the pandemic and each campus is on its own to find solutions. The negative effects of this on the people of our state are felt most strongly at the smaller institutions that serve the rural and most poverty-stricken regions. 5. Finally, if cuts are necessary we call on all campus administrators to take voluntary pay cuts first, and implement progressive pay cuts so that no employee making under $50,000 per year experiences a loss of income.

Posted by United Campus Workers on Thursday, August 27, 2020

The group also questioned Gov. Bill Lee's leadership. They were joined by state Rep. Gloria Johnson, a Democrat from Knoxville, at the virtual press conference. Johnson said the governor or university should set metrics to determine when it is safe to be open.

"We all want to reopen but we can't ignore the science. Lives depend on it," said Johnson."I have great concern not only for the families, but also for the community that they go out into every day and expose."

Workers say that layoffs and furloughs will also only further damage the economic health and growth of the state.

In response to the press conference, a University of Tennessee, Knoxville, spokesperson released the following statement:

“We all share a commitment to wanting to keep our campus, and broader community, healthy. We made a commitment to be creative, compassionate and flexible with our employees, and with our students and will continue to lead our campus with those principles in mind.”

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