News

Union Faults Virus Plans for Students, Faculty, Staff

Local 965 Responds to UA ‘Returning to Campus’ Strategy

News Release, June 2, 2020 

Chancellor Joe Steinmetz deserves praise for his leadership during the pandemic by swiftly closing campus, avoiding furloughs and lay-offs, and preserving the University of Arkansas’s high standards for education and research. However, the UA-Fayetteville Education Association/Local 965 finds the plan released today, “Returning to Campus,” does little to clarify a confusing and potentially dangerous situation for the Fall 2020 semester.

Students

“Returning to Campus” does not go far enough to protect the health of students. We hope to see the administration address the following:

  • Student housing density. Neither the populations of dormitories nor the Greek houses will be reduced to allow more single-occupant living. 
  • Freshmen are still required to live on campus. 
  • Dining halls are scheduled to operate normally and at full capacity. 
  • No proposals to decrease risk on university buses. 

The plan issued by the University of Arkansas does not employ guidelines proposed by the American College Health Association for re-opening campuses. ACHA recommends all students be tested on arrival and that a sample population be tested at regular intervals to gauge the presence of the coronavirus on campus throughout the semester. The guidelines also recommend identifying quarantine space, preferably off campus, for infected students. 

Staff

U of A staff, which include the lowest-paid employees on campus, are left vulnerable under this plan.

Staff deemed essential will be required to report. Other staff “who are unable to be fully productive remotely” will also be required to work on campus. The plan, though, does not state how such a standard will be assessed nor by whom.

And while it seems clear that U of A employees infected with COVID-19 would be able to use sick leave while in quarantine, it is not clear that they could access benefits and continue to be paid if they are quarantined because of contact with an infected person. Not compensating such employees may encourage them to conceal contact with infected persons, to the detriment of the community.

Faculty

The plan’s guidelines for faculty, meanwhile, are conflicting. In Section 3, the document states that employees who self-identify as being at enhanced risk of COVID-19 must report to the Office of Equal Opportunity and Compliance for potential (italics added) accommodations. But in Section 4, the plan states “colleges and departments are urged to continue online or remote delivery whenever that is feasible and effective.” The University faculty has proven it can teach effectively online. Does this mean that every faculty member should continue to teach online? Or must he/she have a pre-existing condition that requires an accommodation from the OEOC?

The plan signals to students that the University of Arkansas is returning to business (as mostly) normal, while simultaneously seeming to urge faculty to continue online and remote delivery of education whenever possible. 

Getting the re-opening of the University of Arkansas right is critical to its future. We urge the administration to be more specific in its proposals to safeguard the U of A community. Until then, UA faculty and staff have proven they can deliver a high-quality remote education, just as it has since campus closed in March. 

# # #

Update — Sunday, June 7, 2020 — University of Arkansas officials on Thursday, June 4, relaxed the longstanding requirement that first-year undergraduates must live on campus unless they present a doctor’s statement indicating an existing medical condition, the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported. “Covid-19 Allowed as Housing Claim” quotes campus spokesman John Thomas as saying, “If a new freshman is more comfortable living off campus due to Covid-19 concerns, we wanted to give them that option.”

While the article cites one parent’s request back in April, concern about the freshmen dorm mandate was a top criticism in Local 965 response, above, to the “Returning to Campus” document issued earlier that day, June 2. The Local’s analysis was reported in two area media outlets. The official document at this date still does not mention the broadening of the new freshmen exemption.

A Modest but Significant Success

FAYETTEVILLE, May 1, 2020 — It’s already become widely known, namely appearing on the front page of the April 30 Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, but we wanted to share this perhaps surprising victory now, on May Day, International Workers Day.

Resolution - Accepting Employee Choice on Remote Employment - April 2020

The University of Arkansas Faculty Senate on a unanimous vote April 29 approved a resolution on flexibility on working remotely as the coronavirus pandemic continues. Local 965 President Bret Schulte, an associate professor of journalism, drafted and presented the motion.

The article “Faculty Supports ‘Choice’ on Classes – UA Group Votes on Fall Resolution” said, “The resolution approved Wednesday states that UA’s faculty senate ‘supports employee choice in continuing to work remotely — be they faculty or staff — out of overwhelming concern for their personal well-being, should university administrators decide to resume face-to-face instruction in the Fall 2020 semester.'”

In response, Assistant Vice Chancellor of University Relations Mark Rushing said in a statement, “All recommendations from the Faculty Senate, Staff Senate and student governance groups are welcome and will be considered as we work through this situation together. We are also closely monitoring planning and discussions regarding best practices taking place across the higher education community and beyond.”

Bret’s “whereases” and “therefores” (PDF of resolution) were developed from discussions in the Local’s monthly membership meeting (on Zoom) April 16, as our April 26 mailing list announcement noted.

I recommend reading the Demzette article, as Jaime Adame’s reporting contains vital information to unpack. I’m also real proud of Bret!

Bret told me after the meeting “that the Executive Council of the Faculty Senate, at my suggestion, is considering creating a committee that would survey UA employees for gaps in training and material for remote instruction.”

All this brings me around to asking each of you this balmy May Day to join or rejoin your union, UA-Fayetteville Education Association/Local 965.

We have the ear of a growing number of groups, leaders and other gatekeepers. The larger our group, indeed, the more clout we have.

And U of A employees need our influential voice, as the Covid-19 pandemic has been making very clear.

Our dues range from $50 a month for full-time faculty to $12 a month for part-time staff. We are working with AEA/NEA to reduce graduate assistants from that $12 to zero dues. What do you get for your money? Glad you asked.

Ben Pollock, Local 965 secretary

Note: This piece was first emailed to members and interested U of A colleagues May 1. It’s been edited slightly here.

Let’s Help Campus Food Pantry

The food bank on our Fayetteville campus needs our help.

Due to the novel coronavirus disease 2019 pandemic, the Jane B. Gearhart Full Circle Food Pantry at the University of Arkansas is getting an unusually high number of requests while supplies are getting more expensive and a little scarce.

“Monetary donations are accepted, and at this time they are preferred,” said Jon Mahaffey, chair of the Full Circle Pantry. “My team has put less emphasis on food donations as we attempt to limit outside exposure inside the pantry.”

Jon provided data to show the increase in need.

“We’ve seen an increase in students served as well as first time clients in the month of March as a result of the Covid-19 related changes to campus operations.” See tables.

Local 965 President Bret Schulte was surprised at the data.

“Those numbers are striking. It’s important to note the number of students served has increased 87 percent even though most students are gone. That really demonstrates the need of the few students remaining.”

Logo for the Jane B. Gearhart Full Circle Food Pantry at the University of Arkansas

The ability to purchase as needed, having enough funding, is crucial, Jon said.

“We are reliably able to purchase certain shelf-stable items such as grains (rice, pasta) and dry beans from the NWA Food Bank cheaply, but the food bank has a high demand for proteins such as peanut butter, canned meats, so it’s harder for us to purchase those items from the food bank. We have to turn to Sam’s Club, which is doable, but a bit more expensive for us. But that’s what’s available right now.

“Fundraising right now is important for the longevity of the Full Circle Food Pantry,” Jon said. “We are spending more on food because we cannot rely on campus-wide food drives during campus closures, and we are seeing an increase in folks served. Any funds we receive are able to offset the costs of keeping up with serving during the pandemic, so that we can continue to serve business as usual when we’re finally all past this.”

Due to closure of the campus, the food pantry has suspended express delivery service, online orders and in-person walk up orders for the rest of the semester. Instead it is packing for clients Full Circle Fast Bags.

The Fast Bags can be picked up Monday, Wednesday, and Friday afternoons. UA or UAMS ID cards are required. Pickups can be made at the pantry, C204 in Bud Walton Hall, and at the Ceramics Studio Outpost, 326 Eastern Ave.

The schedule is detailed on the pantry’s Facebook page and website. Pantry staff maintains Covid-19 safety precautions in food preparation and distribution.

Who Have We Served?

March 1-24, 2020March 2019
Graduate students2514
Undergraduate students3317
Students, Total5831
Hourly workers186
Faculty66
Staff4930
First-time users31 (77 household members)18 (34 household members)
Total (including household members per client)409227
These numbers do not include those served by our Full Circle Fast Bags, which we estimate is 490 people from 245 bags.
Anecdotally, Full Circle Fast Bags have largely been picked up by international students, graduate students (specifically teaching assistants and graduate assistants, as TAs and GAs have lost income) and undergrads who haven’t moved off of campus yet. Some staff are picking up bags as well.

Update: From March 25-31 of this year, the food pantry has given out an additional 109 bags of food between Full Circle and the Ceramics studio, Jon said, estimating that is a total of 218 additional people served.

Ceramics Studio Outpost Fast Bag Pickups (As of 3/25/2020)

Students38
Staff12
Faculty1
Total Bags Given51
Total time outpost open for pick up12 hours

Chancellor Endorses Living Wage for All U of A Employees

News Statement For immediate release — For more information

A point in the 10th and final section of the University of Arkansas chancellor’s “Focus on the Future” planning analysis recommends all employees have a living wage of $30,000 a year. This is earning strong praise from the school’s union.

Professor Bret Schulte, president of UA-Fayetteville Education Association/Local 965, applauds Chancellor Joe Steinmetz for committing “the University to providing Living Wages ($30,000/year) to all university employees.”

“We are looking forward to the plan he promises to unveil in the next few months. We are encouraged by his commitment to the employees that make the University of Arkansas the premier institution of higher education in the state — and for rising to the challenge universities are meant to address, the promotion of fairness, social improvement, and prosperity for all,” Schulte said Tuesday, March 10, 2020.

[Update] The university announced the 10th section on March 11.

Illustration for the white paper analysis of Chancellor Joe Steinmetz
Illustration for the white paper analysis of Chancellor Joe Steinmetz

Local 965, representing the faculty and staff of the University of Arkansas, has waged a Living Wage campaign since spring 2018, gathering nearly a thousand signatures in support of a minimum hourly wage of $14.42 per hour for UA employees. That hourly rate, drawn for a year of 40-hour work weeks, comes to just under $30,000.

The key paragraph from Action Item 10 of Steinmetz’s white paper reads as follows:

“It bears mentioning that we’ve also been alarmed by high turnover in some positions. We need to have competitive wages. In order to be a more responsive workplace, we’ve conducted an ongoing evaluation of our labor market rates to remain competitive. We are now working on a plan that we hope to unveil soon and begin to implement on July 1. A part of that plan is a commitment to providing a living wage, as best we can, for our employees. Our ultimate goal is to raise the minimum yearly salary for all full-time appointed U of A employees to $30,000.” 

Professor Mike Pierce, Local 965 vice president, called the Focus on the Future inclusion “great news,” adding, “Of course, the proof will be in the details as they are unveiled.”

“Local 965 continues to advocate for a safe and equitable workplace,” Schulte said. “We believe a Living Wage will aid in recruiting and retaining the very best employees to aid in the U of A’s mission to be a global leader in research, teaching and scholarship.”

The union has represented U of A staff and faculty since 1962.  

Minimum Wage Rises Jan. 1

The minimum wage in Arkansas will increase to $10.00 an hour on Wednesday, Jan. 1, 2020. The rate had been $9.25 an hour.

To help workers understand this change, the Civil Litigation and Advocacy Clinic  of the University of Arkansas has produced fact sheets in three languages, English, Spanish and Marshallese (PDFs).

The service is among the legal clinics offered by the School of Law, a project founded by then-professor Hillary Rodham Clinton in 1975.

While any increase in the minimum hourly wage is a boon for Arkansawyers, $10 is well shy of the $14.42 an hour sought for U of A employees in the Living Wage Campaign of Arkansas 965, the labor union on campus.

An initiated act approved by Arkansas voters in the November 2018 general election raised the minimum hourly wage from $8.50 to $9.25. In 2021, the bottom hourly pay will be $11.00.

Alas, the road to the official increase is bumpy, according to the Dec. 22, 2019, article “Arkansas Wage Law Pares Caregivers’ Pay — Medicaid’s 15¢ Rate Increase Sets Up Home-care Hours Cut” in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. Some 2,800 disabled people in the state can retain home-based health aides, whose pay has been $10.40 an hour, which won’t cover the wage plus the caregiver’s taxes. To cover the loss, officials decided to cut the number of hours they can work. (Alternate link for the article)

The Civil Litigation and Advocacy Clinic — phone 479-575-3056 — provides free legal representation to low-wage workers in unpaid wage matters. It has recovered roughly $200,000 for its clients — including undocumented clients.

A related program, the Human Trafficking Clinic, advocates to confront and prevent human trafficking, including labor trafficking. Foreign nationals can be screened for eligibility for immigration relief.