A Choice to Work Remotely

Resolution on Allowing University of Arkansas Employees the Choice to Work Remotely

Whereas, the Covid-19 global pandemic has killed at least 6,704 Arkansans, including 400 in Washington County, since the late winter of 2020 (Tracking Coronavirus in Arkansas: Latest Map and Case Count,” The New York Times, link updates periodically);

Whereas, Covid-19 has infected at least 436,000 Arkansans, including more than 38,000 in Washington County (ibid.);

Whereas, in the week starting August 15, more Arkansans were in the hospital than at any time since the pandemic began (ibid.);

Whereas, the Delta Variant of Covid-19 that is the dominant variant in Arkansas releases 1260 times more viral particles than earlier variants (Northwest Arkansas Health Officials Weigh In on Breakthrough Cases of Covid-19,” Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Aug. 15, 2021);

Whereas, “breakthrough infections” among fully vaccinated account for 15% of the cases in Arkansas (ibid.); 

Whereas, on July 30, 2021, Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson declared “a statewide state of disaster emergency related to public health, resulting from the catastrophic statewide impact of the Delta Variant of COVID-19 on the healthcare system of Arkansas” (Executive Order to Declare a Statewide Public Health Emergency for the Purpose of Meeting and Mitigating the Impact of COVID-19, 21-14, July 29, 2021, Office of Gov. Asa Hutchinson);

Whereas, the University of Arkansas is prohibited from requiring students and employees to receive one of the three readily available and safe Covid-19 vaccines, even though vaccines have been required in the past (most recently MMR in the winter of 2019-2020) and Governor Hutchinson has declared that widespread vaccination is the best way to mitigate the effects of Covid-19; 

Whereas, University of Arkansas faculty and staff have demonstrated the ability to advance the university’s primary missions of research and education while working remotely;

Whereas, certain employees of the University of Arkansas fall into high-risk mortality categories if they become infected with Covid-19;

Whereas, certain employees are the primary caregivers of children under 12, who are ineligible for vaccinations, and other high-risk groups;

Whereas, the University of Arkansas’s efforts to mitigate the spread of Covid-19 on campus have been inadequate: 

NOW, THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that, since the University of Arkansas has not taken common-sense steps to mitigate the spread of Covid-19 on campus and protect its employees, UA-Fayetteville Education Association / Local 965 supports employee choice in continuing to work remotely — be they faculty or staff — out of overwhelming concern for their personal well-being;

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that the university require mandatory Covid-19 testing for students who take part in labs, studios or seminars that last longer 120 minutes per session. 

This resolution was approved at the Aug. 19, 2021, general membership meeting of UA-Fayetteville Education Association / Local 965. Members present in a quorum voted unanimously for the topic points, then compiled by Local officers.

Local Urges Campus to Lead on Covid Protocols

JULY 26, 2021 — UA-Fayetteville Education Association/Local 965 is calling for the campus community to practice and even enforce the twin responsibilities of vaccination and masking to fight the coronavirus pandemic through the 2021-22 academic term. As the Arkansas Legislature and governor have hobbled the ability of University of Arkansas administration and employees to advance both of these scientifically verified protocols, it calls on the leadership and individuals on the Fayetteville flagship campus to do what it takes to save lives.

The board of Local 965 recommends three collective actions to protect its members and indeed all UA colleagues, as well as the students whom they serve. These augment its stance on campus pandemic policies in June 2020.

The union thus actively opposes both the newly passed Arkansas Act 1002 preventing state and local governments including public education entities from mandating the wearing of masks and the newly passed Arkansas Act 1030 prohibiting “vaccine passports” being required by a state or local government entity or official for “travel, education or services.” Both laws unreasonably increase health risks to UA employees and students.

Attorney Thomas A. Mars of Rogers has announced plans to sue the state of Arkansas over Act 1002 on requiring masking. The plaintiffs would be all K-12 parents whose children attend public schools in Arkansas.

The 965 board recommends that the UA administration join the lawsuit either as co-plaintiff or through an amicus curiae, friend of the court brief, on behalf of its workers and students.

Second, the Local 965 board recommends Pat Walker Health Center and related UA entities more aggressively promote obtaining Covid vaccinations and using masks appropriately among students and employees. They can start with ignoring the duplicative element of Act 1002, that all advisories for the prevention of Covid-19 “shall provide notice that the recommendation is not mandatory.” The redundancy taints whatever neutrality is in the law in favor of keeping more people vulnerable.

Third, neither Act 1002 nor 1030 includes provisions for felony or misdemeanor criminal or civil penalties for entities or employees in positions of responsibility to insist on face coverings or vaccine documentation of anyone within their realms. These laws, however, may refer implicitly to state prosecutorial standards. The union board supports any member and endorses any other UA worker who chooses to engage in Civil Resistance by mandating those in their realm wear face coverings properly in indoor spaces or crowded outdoor spaces on campus.

This instance of Civil Resistance would be where a staff or faculty member who uses an office to feel no reluctance to post signage or otherwise state that the unmasked are not welcome there. A faculty member when presiding in a classroom should have the liberty to bar the unmasked. Staff members who are not clerical, for example employed in Facilities Management, should be provided plenty of personal protective equipment and not only taught but encouraged to use PPE.

The Local board notes the protocols set up by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention with “Your Guide to Masks” and “Vaccines for Covid-19,” the Arkansas Department of Health, and the university’s Pat Walker Health Center. Due to two factors, these policies and best practices do not go far enough to ensure the welfare of as many workers and students as possible.

The first is that none of these protocols quite addresses the increasing danger of Covid mutations, currently the Delta. Local 965 therefore worries about the next coronavirus-2019 variants to saturate the United States, starting presumably with the Epsilon

The other issue is the inherent and unnecessary risk of trusting those who claim to have been vaccinated, not to mention those who do not say or proclaim refusal to be vaccinated. The precaution here is not the vax record card or even a tattoo but rather to assume that any stranger, relative, acquaintance or friend can be a Covid carrier. Indeed, the Delta variant shows that fully vaccinated people can be infected with few or no symptoms yet be contagious. The risk of fatality or long Covid is too heavy a burden to place on the Office of Student Standards and Conduct. Collective action is the recourse.

We mustn’t neglect mentioning the third responsibility: Wash your hands. Often.

For immediate release
For information contact
From Arkansas965.org

Illustration of a hygienic face mask

55.5 Years of Service

Local 965 of the University of Arkansas began in the early 1960s, and we were formally chartered Jan. 1, 1966. Now, June 30, 2021, is a good time to honor that longevity.

We have outlasted a baker’s dozen of chancellors and presidents in our 55.5 years:

  • June 22, 2021 – current — William Reid Kincaid, acting chancellor
  • 2011 – current — Donald Bobbitt/p
  • 2016-2021 — Joseph E. Steinmetz/c
  • 2008- 2015 — G. David Gearhart/c
  • 1997- 2008 —John A. White/c
  • 1990-2011 — B. Alan Sugg/p
  • 1986-97 — Daniel Ferritor/c
  • 1984-90 — Ray Thornton/p
  • 1984-85 — Willard Gatewood/c
  • 1982-83 — B.A. Nugent/c
  • 1980-84 — James E. Martin/p
  • 1974-80 — Charles E. Bishop/p
  • 1960-74 — David Wiley Mullins/p

(President since the early 1980s refers to leading the overall U of A System. Chancellorship of the Fayetteville campus began with Nugent in 1982. The campus chief executive before that was president, not counting Frank Broyles, hired as football coach in 1958.)

Nationally and over a number of years, union membership has been declining for a complexity of reasons. In the last years of the last century, notably, Local 965 led successful opposition to a UA administration move to turn some of the work of the buildings and grounds staff over to private contractors. Our membership surged. Then in early 2017, Local 965 began a resurgence. In January 2020, it joined the National Education Association, the union whose higher education division most closely aligns with the needs and interests of our membership. Our fiscal year ending June 30 has been our most successful in collective action.

Graphic showing 55.5 years the Local has represented University of Arkansas employees, having been chartered on Jan. 1, 1966

Parading for Pride, 2021

UA-Fayetteville Education Association/Local 965 was represented in both parades in their city honoring the LGBTQ community, during the June 2021 Pride Month. The Northwest Arkansas events were organized by NWA Equality.

The first was Thursday evening, June 24, the first Trans March in Arkansas. The parade went from the Walton Arts Center to the Town Center. The march and rally were intended to increase visibility and empower transgender, nonbinary, gender variant and gender nonconforming people to come out, as well as protest the state Legislature’s passage of transgender laws, the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported.

Local 965 at-large board members Ryan Gliszinski and Chad Kieffer participate in the Fayetteville Trans March on June 24.
Local 965 at-large board member Chad Kieffer (right) walked for the union to support transgender rights, the community and their supporters in the state’s first Trans March on June 24, 2021.

At noon Saturday, June 26, a few hundred marchers organized in several dozen groups took part in the 17th annual NWA Pride Parade began near St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, moving west on Dickson Street to the edge of the University of Arkansas campus. Thousands watched and applauded from the sidewalks of Dickson, the city’s main entertainment district.

Lining up for the Local were President Bret Schulte, Vice President Mike Pierce, Secretary Ben Pollock, at-large board member Ted Swedenburg and member Tricia Starks. Other union members marched with other groups in the parade, including at-large board member Chad Kieffer.

We would be remiss if we failed to note the obvious: The Covid pandemic is ending but not over and Saturday’s event is not a good look. We were heartened and grateful that parade organizers and city management arranged the participant groups carefully using health protocols. The current safety guidelines for large gatherings were honored by those participating IN the parade — generally standing at least 6 feet apart and so forth.

That the thousands of onlookers mobbed up shoulder to shoulder like old times with no face coverings and so forth is a worry. We only can hope that the sorts of people who support the principles the parade espoused know the safety and efficacy of the new coronavirus vaccines and got their shots weeks ago.

Year of Successes Points to Next Efforts

News Statement
For immediate release — For more information
Local President Bret Schulte

June 13, 2021 — As the 2020-2021 academic year closes, the UA-Fayetteville Education Association / Local 965 is seeing record growth after securing historic victories for faculty, staff and students at the University of Arkansas. Collective action led by Local 965 is fundamentally improving the lives of employees at the University of Arkansas by promoting prosperity, equity, transparency and employee choice. As a result, the local has seen membership increase about 60 percent since a revival of interest began in 2017.

Entering the school term, university Chancellor Joseph Steinmetz agreed to meet the demands of the local’s two-year campaign for a “living wage” of a minimum $30,000 a year for all UA employees. The campaign included op-ed commentaries, media appearances, demonstrations and petition gathering at events such as farmers’ markets and UA football games in support of higher wages, all the while supporting the campus food pantry that served food-insecure employees and students.

“This is a long overdue and desperately needed raise for many UA employees,” said Bret Schulte, 965 president. “We believe this decision shows the power of coming together and magnifying our voices until we are heard.”

The work of Local 965 received prominent attention from its parent organization, the National Education Association, the country’s largest union at more than 2 million members. The union’s NEA Today magazine covered the successful Living Wage Campaign strategies deployed by the Local 965, and NEA President Becky Pringle congratulated the Local 965 during her opening address to the 2021 Higher Education Conference, where she offered it as a model of what is possible for NEA locals across the country.

When the chancellor initially declined to offer a pro-rated living wage of $20,000 per 9-month term to graduate teaching and research assistants, the 965 turned its focus to helping the grad students organize by providing funds for promotional material, contributing to strategy sessions and authoring a resolution endorsing the raise. The resolution, written by Local 965 Vice President Mike Pierce, was submitted to the Faculty Senate then overwhelmingly passed in March.

In May, the administration agreed to a raise — another victory as the result of pressure applied by collective action. While the raise from an average of did not reach the threshold of $20k, the UA increased its minimum stipends from $9,387 to $11,250 for the school year. The Local 965 continues to work with graduate students on their fight.

“The university is moving in the right direction,” said Pierce. “but more work needs to be done. $1,500 a month is not enough when the Graduate School’s own data shows that it costs at least $2,100 a month for a single person to live in Fayetteville.” 

In the midst of the summer 2020 Black Lives Matter protests across the country, Pierce, an associate professor of history, brought to the attention of the public the damning history of Gov. Charles Brough for whom a dining hall on campus is named. In a press release soon reposted by the Arkansas Times, Pierce recounted Brough’s role as a cheerleader and and supporter of the what came to be called the Elaine Race Massacre of 1919, in which an estimated 150 to 400 Blacks were killed by white mobs in Phillips County.

Pierce’s report launched the first-ever examination of that governor’s namesake on campus, Brough Commons. When a commission was established to examine the race record of Sen. J. William Fulbright, the university included a review of Gov. Brough. Pierce served on the committee and agreed with its recommendations that the men should not be honored with namesakes on campus. Separately, Pierce’s research on labor and race caught the attention of the Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II, the civil rights leader who cited Pierce by name in the conclusion of the NEA Leadership Summit last spring.

Other accomplishments from the Local 965 this July-through-June fiscal year: 

  • Local 965 president Bret Schulte introduced two Faculty Senate resolutions to protect worker safety at the UA: One endorsing employee choice for remote work at the outbreak of the COVID pandemic, and the other requesting an air audit of all HVAC systems on campus to ensure they were outfitted with proper MERV-13 filters and increased ventilation. Both resolutions passed. 
  • Local 965 President Bret Schulte and Mike Pierce worked with LGBTQ groups across campus — including staff, faculty and employees — to create concrete recommendations to make campus a safe and more supportive space for the trans community in the wake of state legislation hostile to their health and well-being. The resolution passed faculty senate overwhelmingly and met a need for such recommendations expressed by UA’s central administration. 
  • The Local 965 stood in solidarity in March with Amazon workers seeking to unionize in Alabama at a protest outside the Fayetteville Whole Foods, also owned by Amazon. 
  • The Local 965 organized a campaign to dissuade state legislators from stifling public employee unions that allowed the termination of state employees who engage in labor activity under the umbrella of collective bargaining. The bill, however, passed both chambers and the governor signed it into law.