Attached below is a copy of a letter sent to NC State Administration by the NC State Graduate Worker’s Union:
Dear NC State University Administrators,
On July 2nd, 2020, while North Carolina was dealing with 7-day averages of 1,500 new daily COVID-19 cases and 14 daily COVID-19 deaths, Professor Katie Mack published an open letter to Chancellor Randy Woodson warning that “bringing college students back to classrooms during COVID-19 is a mistake.” Less than two months later, mere weeks after the start of the fall semester, all students were sent home, citing “rapidly increasing rates of transmission of COVID-19 on our campus and in the local community.” Now, with North Carolina facing 7-day averages of over 7,000 new daily COVID-19 cases and 90 COVID-19 deaths daily, Chancellor Woodson and his administration again want to bring students back to campus.
NC State is not equipped to handle the spread of COVID-19 on-campus. Despite a state executive order limiting indoor gatherings to 10 people, NC State is offering in-person classes in the spring, just one of numerous settings in which over 10 people gather indoors. Additionally, return-to-campus testing cannot account for the several-day period after exposure when infected individuals are undetectable. In light of the current COVID-19 numbers, which are 4 to 6 times worse than last summer, it should be apparent that bringing students back to campus from across the country is not in the best interest of the students, faculty, or staff.
At the epicenter of these COVID-19 transmissions, hotspots will be the housekeeping, grounds, dining, and maintenance staff. In order to keep their jobs, these individuals will be put at the greatest risk by having to work around thousands of students who have just traveled from all across the country. Many of these workers have elderly family members to look after or young children attending school from home who will also be exposed to workplace dangers. NC State has not provided these essential workers with adequate sick leave, PPE, or guaranteed job security for the spring semester, yet they must work in hazardous conditions daily to keep the university running.
While Chancellor Woodson and his administration have discussed measures that NC State will take to re-open the university safely, they know that these measures are not enough to control COVID-19 within the NC State community. Instead of taking serious actions to protect students’ and workers’ lives, such as only allowing students without alternative housing options back on campus and providing workers with adequate PPE, the university is endangering those lives, ostensibly to minimize their financial losses.
There have already been multiple cases of COVID-19 in the chemistry department and a cluster in University Athletics. It’s clear that Chancellor Woodson and his administration have chosen to forgo common-sense safety measures, such as eliminating the non-essential gatherings of students and staff, in favor of the revenues that athletics will bring to the university.
If the university can’t prevent clusters among students whose lives are under tight scrutiny, such as those in athletics, before the start of the semester, then how will they do so when they invite thousands of more students to return? Last semester, the administration shamefully blamed students for the COVID-19 outbreaks that shuttered campus rather than accept part of the blame for their reckless decision to re-open campus in the fall. Now, the administration wants to bring students back under even more dire circumstances. We can expect the same scapegoating behavior in place of true accountability from those who are forcing students and workers into unsafe environments.
We, the members of the NC State University Graduate Workers Union, chapter of the UE Local 150, call on the university administration to (1) reverse the decision to bring students back to campus amid record-breaking COVID-19 case counts and deaths; (2) limit on-campus housing to students without alternative housing; (3) transparently report the locations and number of cases of clusters on-campus; (4) protect workers and students by providing sufficient masks and free, regular testing to all members of the campus community; (5) provide additional sick and family leave for all university employees; (6) prioritize the workers who keep the campus operational by drawing on endowments and emergency funds and cutting administrative salaries instead of furloughing the lowest-paid and most vulnerable workers on campus; and (7) provide a seat at the table for leaders of the UE Local 150 for all decision-making the affects the lives and livelihoods of campus employees.
As representatives for the students and workers we, the NC State Graduate Workers Union call for a prompt and public response to all of the concerns raised above. It is your responsibility as administrators to prioritize the health and safety of workers and students over the financial gains made through reopening the campus prematurely.