N&O News Coverage of 3/29 Letter Delivery to Chancellor Thorp

Bill affecting UNC system workers in dispute

By Mark Schultz – mschultz@newsobserver.com
Published in: Orange County
Photo: MARK SCHULTZ – mschultz@newsobserver.com
“We already have very few protections, and they want to take away the few protections we have,” says geography professor Altha Cravey, who addressed the crowd from the steps of South Building during the Thursday, March 29, rally.

CHAPEL HILL About 30 people rallied Thursday against legislation they say would strip an estimated 22,000 University of North Carolina system workers of state job protections.

Senate Bill 575 would remove the UNC workers from the State Personnel Act, giving the power to manage those positions to the UNC Board of Governors. If passed, the measure would affect wages, disability benefits, grievance and other policies, the group said in a letter hand delivered to UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor Holden Thorp’s office. He was not there, and efforts to reach him for comment Thursday were unsuccessful.

“By removing university workers across the state from legal protections for redress they now have … SB 575 will perpetuate a work environment where employees fear retaliation if they speak out against poor working conditions, effectively silencing worker voices,” the letter says.

A spokeswoman for the UNC system said that’s not true.

“I do not believe this letter accurately portrays the potential impact of the university’s decision to seek a single unified personnel system under the authority of the Board of Governors,” said Joni Worthington, the UNC system’s vice president for communications.

System officials have sought feedback from staff affected from the system’s 16 universities she said. If the new plan is approved, “staff and faculty will have significant participation in the development of the new personnel system.”

In a March 9 memo to the UNC-CH community, Brenda Richardson Malone, vice chancellor for human resources at UNC-CH, said having one personnel system would ultimately make things better for campus workers.

“There are substantial benefits to all employees, in that it will allow the Board of Governors to develop policies and practices that would be better aligned with the higher education environment, while maintaining existing employee protections as stated in the guiding principles,” Malone wrote.

But opponents say even if the initial rules are fair, a future board could change them. “When that board turns over there’s no guarantee that benevolence will continue,” said Harry Phillips of Triangle Jobs with Justice.

A handful of UNC-CH housekeepers attended Thursday’s rally.

“I have been working here almost 17 years, and I’m ready to retire in three years,” said Deborah Seymore of Siler City. “I want people who come after me to have rights. This is not fair; it’s another way to keep us down.”

About 130 people and organizations signed the letter, which asks Thorp to explain his position on the bill and attend another rally against SB 575 from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. April 4 outside South Building, the campus administration building.

Schultz: 919-932-2003
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