UNC Workers Are Right to Worry – Op-Ed in N&O

by  Jeff Hirsch and Sherryl Kleinman

Trust us. That’s what UNC system administrators have said in response to staff, faculty and students’ challenges to state Senate Bill 575, which would deprive 22,000 University of North Carolina system employees of job protections now provided under the State Personnel Act (SPA).

Employees’ concerns make sense. Worry is warranted when an employer tries to swap one set of legal protections for a vague alternative. We doubt that any UNC administrators took their jobs without contracts that specified the terms of their employment.

The SPA is not perfect, but it spells out rights that protect people’s jobs. The proposed alternative offered by the UNC system administrators is a set of “guiding principles” that are ambiguous and lack detail.

Critics of SB 575 have asked what, if any, protections would remain if UNC system employees are no longer covered by the SPA. The key questions concern just cause, protection for whistleblowers, enforcement and grievance procedures.

UNC system administrators say that they are willing to maintain a just-cause standard for terminating employees, as opposed to an at-will policy that would allow employees to be fired for any reason not forbidden by state or federal law.

But this expression of willingness is meaningless. The proposed guidelines create no statutory requirements for termination. Nor do they constitute a legally enforceable promise. So in effect UNC system administrators are saying that they will provide just-cause protection – unless they decide not to.

In all organizations, whistleblowers can help to expose waste and malfeasance. Current law recognizes this and protects whistleblowers from retaliation. All taxpayers who want the benefits of clean and efficient government should support such laws.

It’s not clear how the guidelines proposed by UNC system administrators would protect whistleblowers. Vagueness with regard to such protection, along with uncertain just-cause protection, creates legitimate fear of being fired for bringing waste or malfeasance to light.

Perhaps the worst problem with SB 575 is that it leaves unspecified the mechanisms that employees could use to challenge unfair treatment. No matter how many protections exist on paper, they mean little if the procedures for enforcing them are inadequate.

Currently, the SPA allows employees to make their case and present evidence to a neutral judge. The guiding principles proposed by UNC system administrators say only that there will be “fair processes.” What processes, exactly? And fair according to whom?

The proposed guidelines imply that job disputes would be decided not by a neutral judge but by UNC. It should be clear what’s wrong with a procedure that allows the party being accused of unfair treatment to decide the outcome. Such a procedure, if put into place, would be a major loss for UNC system employees.

One needs only to look at the UNC Health Care workforce, which went through a similar change, to see the potential harm. Informal reports from Health Care workers suggest it has become incredibly difficult to file a grievance, much less win one. Is this the outcome UNC administrators want to achieve on a system-wide basis?

The SPA also provides remedies for employees who can prove that they have been treated unfairly: reinstatement, back pay and payment of attorney’s fees. What remedies would be available under the proposed guidelines? They’re not specified.

UNC system administrators have been trying for years to get this change through the state legislature. It thus seems odd that they haven’t, by now, been able to put details on the table. This is hardly the sort of thing that inspires trust.

One reason trust is low among UNC system employees is that administrators have often denied problems or been slow to address them. The UNC-Chapel Hill housekeeping department is just one example. After years of complaints, university administrators hired the PRM Consulting Group to investigate. In its report, issued on Sept. 29, 2011, the PRM consultants said, “… current practices in the Department [of Housekeeping] have created a culture with employee morale issues, lack of trust, and overall frustration.”

This situation developed with the SPA in effect. A system with fewer protections would likely lead to more problems and longer response times. Without specific, enforceable job-protection guarantees, all it takes for a valuable employee to lose his or her job is one bad supervisor.

Unless UNC system administrators and the Board of Governors offer an alternative that includes real job protections and guarantees of enforcement, distrust remains a rational response to SB 575. Trust between administrators and employees should be cultivated. The best way to do this is to back up trust with solid law, not airy guidelines.

Jeffrey M. Hirsch is an associate professor at the UNC School of Law. Sherryl Kleinman is professor of sociology at UNC-Chapel Hill.

Tom Ross Response to NC-AAUP

Dr. Martinez,

Thank you for copying me on each of the letters you sent to the Chancellors of our 17 campuses regarding the proposal to allow the University the flexibility to design a personnel system for all of our employees.  As you know, the Board of Governors has for 40 years been the governing authority for all faculty and EPA non-faculty employees.  The proposal would move the authority for current SPA employees to the Board and enable the University to eliminate unnecessary complexity and processing associated with operating dual systems.  Most importantly, it will make it possible for us to enhance the working circumstances of all of our employees by developing a unified, University mission-focused personnel system .

It is my view that no one cares more about the interest of University faculty and staff than the University itself.  All of us involved with the University recognize we cannot successfully carryout our mission without our faculty and staff.   As administrators we owe it to all of our employees to do everything we can to make the working environment and benefits as fair and supportive as possible.  This is not possible under current circumstances.  We also know that the best systems are those that are developed inclusively and we are committed to involving employee groups in the development of the new system.

People may certainly differ on whether or not this is the best direction for the University at this time.  However, your letter raises concerns about this legislation that are not based on facts, such as the statement that employees no longer will have legal guarantees and protections and will be able to be fired at will.  I hope as part of the University family we will work together to understand these issues, avoid creating unnecessary fear and continue collaborating on the best policies for our employees moving forward.

I would like to extend the opportunity to you and to the NC AAUP leadership team to meet with me and/or our Human Resources team so that we might discuss our proposal and clarify the facts surrounding the proposed legislation.

My goal is for the University of North Carolina to be the best place to work for faculty and staff offering the best education for students.   I believe this is your goal as well.  I look forward to a discussion of how we can work together to improve the conditions under which all of our employees work and the benefits they receive.

Sincerely yours,

Thomas W. Ross

President of the University of North Carolina

PO Box 2688

Chapel Hill, NC 27515-2688

919-962-9000 (Office)

919-843-9695 (Fax)


Seeking Fair Treatment: The University System Contemplates the Elimination of State Protections for Low Wage Employees

April 8, 2012


After four months searching for a stable job, Amanda Hulon found a position with the UNC housekeeping department. But after only four shifts cleaning UNC buildings, her supervisor made her an offer—have sex with me, and things will go a lot easier for you here at work. Say anything, and I’ll make your life hell. Dependent on her salary, Hulon suffered through weeks of sexual harassment and abuse, filing grievances with the Facilities Department that brought no relief. Fed up, she filed a law suit against her supervisor and the University in August 2011.

But Hulon is not alone. A recent report compiled by the PRM Consulting firm on UNC-Chapel Hill’s housekeeping department found that employees “had witnesses or were the target of what they felt were inappropriate behaviors, including being touched, pushed, fondled, and spoke to in a sexually explicit manner.”

The report caps off a year rampant with controversy for the university facilities department. In September, UNC fired former director of housekeeping Bill Burston after employees filed numerous complaints against him for sexual harassment. Only three months later, assistant director Tanya Sell was forced out as well, following a series of complaints and widespread protest from the housekeepers.

But in Hulon’s case—as in many others—the proper University channels could not address the problems its housekeepers struggle with day in and day out.
And if a proposed initiative is pushed through the NC General Assembly this spring, the University of North Carolina system will eliminate the last defense of state oversight by removing around 15,400 employees from the protections of the State Personnel Act.

“From wages to benefits to health care to the grievance process [to] raises—basically everything that really decides the conditions for university employees would be under the authority of the Board of Governors,” junior and Student Action with Workers co-chair Zaina Alsous said.

A Grab for Greater System-wide Flexibility and Efficiency
The measure, which state Sen. Richard Stevens (R-Raleigh) first introduced last April in Senate Bill 575, would streamline the University’s personnel systems by putting the current SPA employees, who include housekeepers, facilities staff, police officers and office support, under the same employee system as professors, research assistants, upper-level management, and the senior academic officials.

“The University is aggressively pursuing and made clear that they want to see it passed in this legislature,” said Ardis Watkins, the director for legislative affairs at SEANC. On the University System’s 2012-2013 legislative agenda, the measure is one of five initiatives listed under ‘Personnel Efficiencies.’

Although SB 575, which included the measures, has expired and can no longer be considered in this legislative session, Sen. Stevens told Campus BluePrint that he has not ruled out introducing the proposal yet again by including it in this year’s budget. Stevens acted as one of the two original sponsors of SB 575 and currently chairs the Appropriations Committee, which gives him quite a bit of power.

Stevens holds, as does the Office of UNC System President Tom Ross, that the removal of university system employees from the SPA gives the universities more flexibility in dealing with their employees without taking away employee protections.

In order to guarantee that employees won’t lose rights without state supervision, the Board of Governors discussed in February a set of guiding principles that would inform its new personnel system, if allowed by the state.

“I have offered to the employees group and to President Ross that if it would help clarify things, I’ll put those [guiding principles] in the statute saying that in adopting personnel rules the University shall follow the following principles,” Stevens said. “They’re good solid sound personnel procedures that also provide protections for employees…If the University is not compliant with the statute, then they’re not in compliance with the law.”

But the guiding principles are little more than vague promises for the members of the Coalition for Workplace Democracy—a statewide coalition of student groups, labor unions, and concerned associations such as the North Carolina Conference of the American Association of University Professors mobilizing against the removal of the SPA protections.

They aren’t binding, Alsous says. And even if they are written into the statute, the current draft of the principles offers little more than assurances without offering any concrete details or providing for an enforcement mechanism outside of the Board of Governors, according to Nick Wood, a labor organizer with the national coalition, Jobs with Justice.

For SEANC, the most important flaw in the guiding principles is the University system’s refusal to include a property-rights guarantee, which would ensure that none of the employees would become at-will or able to be fired for any reason at any time. As the principles currently stand, employees would be phased into at-will positions once the new personnel system was up and running.

“Upon implementation of the unified system, employees previously identified as ‘SPA’ will not be required to become ‘at will’ in their current jobs,” the document on the University system website states. “Employees may choose to apply for and accept transfers or promotions to ‘at will’ positions.”

According to Chelsea Philips, a SEANC organizer working in western North Carolina, SEANC lobbyists have met with the Board of Governors several times about adding a provision preventing at-will employment, yet have consistently been told no. If they aren’t planning on turning employees into at-will employees, Philips asked, then why won’t they agree to put that in the law?

Projected and Potential Consequences of Removing SPA Protections
Without the threat of state oversight or any binding legal contract, employees could find themselves at the whim of a future, more conservative Board of Governors.

“They’re going to make all these promises, but after there are no legal conditions,” Alsous said. “These words and these promises can change at any time, and no one will know the difference. And on top of that, the Board of Governors can change at any time. It already isn’t exactly a pro-worker body, but if you can imagine it even more conservative—which is totally possible in a changing political landscape—the state of workers would be completely up in the air.”

Without the SPA provisions, Watkins says, university employees  essentially become at-will employees, which means that they can be fired at any time without a justifiable cause. Senior Laurel Ashton, who serves as the second co-chair of SAW and who completed an honors thesis on the state of housekeepers’ rights at UNC, thinks the University system won’t make any dramatic changes to the housekeepers’ personnel system—at least not at first.

“What’s important about [this SPA measure] is that it can happen,” Ashton said. “When they need to make the changes, that’s when they’ll do it.”

But Ashton does warn that removing the housekeepers and other low-income employees from the SPA will have immediate consequences on both morale and their ability to ask for help.
“The fear is already so heightened,” Ashton said. “It’s so engrained in the workers’ everyday experiences on the job, and they’re not at-will employees. There is a process that has to be taken to eventually terminate an employee, and that has been the reason that so many housekeeper organizers are still around because they have these protections. And if you’re at-will, then you don’t. You can be fired for any reason.”

Removing the SPA protections would hold widespread implications, from health-care benefits to the guaranteed grievance process to job security to a set wages.

“Under the State Personnel Act, wages are codified and organized so if you work for a certain amount of time, you get x raise,” Alsous said. “But if this only were under the auspice of the Board of Governors, wages could totally fluctuate dependent on personal favoritism or there could no raises. There is no oversight. There is no one to hold the University accountable.”

Case Study: A Grievance Process Gone Wrong
In 1998, the Board of Governors pushed a similar measure to SB 575 and removed hospital employees statewide from the SPA by creating UNC Healthcare as a separate entity, complete with its own personnel system. University officials have cited the success of UNC Healthcare in making their bid to remove the rest of its employees from SPA, but those who work with hospital employees in the Chapel Hill area say there are serious reasons for concern.

“The reason things have been fairly quiet is because it is impossible to file grievances,” said Clay Turner, an attorney at the firm, McSurley and Turner, which specializes in civil rights litigation in the Chapel Hill area.

Although both the Healthcare system and the SPA provide grievance processes for their workers, the ease of access, quality of resources, and structure of the two systems differ widely—and offer employees widely different chances for relief.

In the case of the SPA, the grievance form is several pages long and provides a list of various grievances that employees can check, thereby providing the workers with a much better chance of fully explaining their claim. The SPA website includes links to multi-paged documents detailing all of an employee’s rights, the ins and outs of the grievance process, and guidelines for how to navigate all of the technical jargon.

In contrast, the UNC Healthcare system hands out a grievance form that requires the employee to write in his or her answers to three questions: ‘Nature of grievance,’ ‘Brief statement of facts,’ and ‘Relief.’ The procedure itself is discussed in only a few pages. None of these documents are provided on a website but can only be obtained by going in to ask management.
“Someone making $20,000 a year without even a high school education is not going to be able to navigate [this grievance process,]” Turner said.

Turner referenced one Latino housekeeper he had spoken with who had gone to management to file a grievance for workplace discrimination. He brought 12 eyewitnesses along with him, and yet Human Resources told him that he had no basis for a claim and was refused the chance to even fill out a grievance form.

The problems don’t end, however, once a Healthcare employee is fortunate enough to receive a grievance form. Under the SPA system, the employees must go through two stages of hearings internally before they are able to take their claim to a court—where their claim is overheard by a neutral, administratively-experienced judge, where they have due process rights, where attorneys can cross examine witnesses and present testimony.

In the Healthcare system, on the other hand, that evidentiary hearing on the claim takes place internally before the Board of Governors. In that hearing environment, says Turners, workers are often times denied due process rights, such as cross examination, the presentation of witnesses, and an unbiased, impartial adjudicator. By the time the grievance makes it out of the UNC Healthcare System at the final appeal, an outside body like the Superior Court can only review the record compiled in the skewed hearing. At that time, the employee cannot introduce any new evidence to back up his or her claim.

“[Employees have] a hugely better winning percentage in front of a judge,” Turner said.

Without the SPA protections, university employees won’t see a judge until the final stage, at which point most of their fate has already been decided by “a kangaroo court,” according to Turner.

Bolstering Public Awareness
But even though such a move could have potentially huge consequences for the housekeeping staff, the University has not made much of an effort to publicize it among employees. Odessa Davis, who has worked as a housekeeper at UNC for close to 20 years, has found it difficult to get information out of the university.

“They don’t tell us,” Davis said. “We have to find out in bits and pieces. But we know better. They tell us that it’s benefiting because you’ll get more out of this and more out of that. But we already know [better].”

SEANC’s more than 55,000 public employees voted to make opposition to the SPA repeal the union’s third highest priority for this legislative session. And much of the UNC housekeeping staff is also aware of the measure and has expressed their opposition. The newly-constituted Employee Forum recently approved a resolution criticizing the switch to a single personnel system.

Davis is one of the housekeepers taking the lead in raising awareness on campus about this issue.

“If we get that bill, we won’t have no say-so,” Davis said. “They can just fire us just like that. With no excuse. So I think it’s very important that they know as much as they can about that bill.”

Mobilizing against the measure certainly presents an uphill battle. The low-income university employees have traditionally featured as a marginalized and easily trampled group in the power schemata of North Carolina politics, and the Board of Governors is pushing for Sen. Stevens to introduce this initiative again this session.

“The Board of Governors has so much power over those positions, and we rarely talk about them,” Ashton said. “That’s just not even a part of our rhetoric before this. We need to be looking at the Board of Governors. It’s not about [particular] people, it’s about the social position that they’re holding and that they are under the thumb of the Board of Governors.”

The Struggle for Labor Rights in Context
But this latest attempt to void the SPA protections for university system employees follows in a long tradition of conflict between organized labor and the public institutions.
“UNC has a long history of using its influence in the state house to negatively affect university workers,” Ashton said. “When [the State Personnel Act] was first being revised, UNC insured that its lowest wage workers would not even be considered SPA. It’s not necessarily surprising because this is a history that we are just kind of continuing, but it’s sad.”

Labor has always found it difficult to organize in the state of North Carolina; the state legislature eliminated collective bargaining rights back in 1959.

“We have the lowest unionization rate in the country [at] 2.9 percent,” Ashton said. “I don’t know when North Carolina hasn’t been at the very bottom. We like to think of ourselves [as the Progressive South], but when it comes to labor, it’s just not the case.”

Looking back over his history working to unionize and represent public-sector workers, Watkins confirms Ashton’s assessment of the topography.

“North Carolina is one of the most hostile states to workers in terms of worker rights,” Watkins said. “We’re trying as an organization to ensure that public workers’ rights are maintained to the best extent that they can.”

In light of all of the recent labor skirmishes in states like Wisconsin and California, Ashton finds it noteworthy that the University system could take away what few tools workers have to stand up for their own rights.

“There’s already so little power in labor in North Carolina,” Ashton said. “Who thinks it’s so necessary to take this last push when other states are rioting because they are taking away the rights that we haven’t had in 50 years? Why are they doing this now?”

Only the Latest Incident for the Housekeepers
This SPA initiative is just the icing on the cake for the UNC housekeepers, who already face a gamut of problems, ranging from harsh chemicals to unfair management to abuse to perceived job insecurity. To work as a one of the least visible and most marginalized positions on a college campus often times makes employees much less likely to feel as if they can stand up for themselves.

The PRM report noted on multiple occasions that the consultants feared many of the housekeepers, particularly those among the non-English speaking population, were not answering their questions honestly out of a fear of retaliation.

“During the interview process, several employees, particularly the Burmese employees, made it clear that they were not going to say anything bad about management, for fear of losing their jobs,” the report concluded.

Yet even with the silencing of some housekeepers, the report paints a troubling picture of what it is like to work as a housekeeper on campus.

As many as 33 percent of the current staff doesn’t agree that “Housekeeping management cares about and is interested in the welfare of its employees.” Furthermore, 34 percent opposed the statement, “I believe Housekeeping management promotes an environment free from harassment, discrimination and intimidation.”

The list of perceived unfairness and mistreatment goes on and on.

“The ombudsmen have heard all of this,” Alsous said. “Chancellor Thorpe has heard all of this….When Human Resources is receiving grievances—grievance upon grievance upon grievance that this is going on—[and yet nothing happens,] you really start to question who is supposed to be taking responsibility here.”

Since PRM Consulting released its report to the University and to the public last October, Chancellor Thorpe promised to develop and implement “an action plan that incorporates many of PRM’s ideas.” But since September, the housekeepers have seen only a few superficial changes go into effect, according to Davis.

“The only thing that I’ve seen change is that they got rid of some of the bad managers,” Davis said, “but we’ve still got some. And that’s about it.”

For Ashton, the problems plaguing the housekeeping department go much deeper than just the individual managers.

“One woman [I spoke with] had a really interesting perspective on it: we still haven’t cut off the head of the snake,” Ashton said. “The PRM report does a lot of things, but you can tell that they aren’t taking it where they need to take it. And I think there’s a reason. They were hired by the university. They’re not going to implicate the administration in the problems of the housekeeping department…Managers are the pawns of those above them.”

And the power dynamic between the housekeeping staff and the University administration makes the possibility of real change all the more elusive.

“Let’s just call it the elephant in the room,” Alsous said. “The majority of housekeepers are minority women. It’s just a historically-marginalize and silenced community…On top of that, they are minority women from impoverished communities who are not paid a living wage.”

Taking Steps Forward
Both SAW members agree on a couple of actionable steps that the University should be taking to better conditions for its workers—namely, providing adequate translation services for non-English speakers and eliminating a stifling team-cleaning policy.

The PRM report highlighted the clear need for more translators within the housekeeping department, yet Ashton has found little to no action has been taken thus far.
“Last month at least, we went with a Spanish-speaking housekeeper to Human Resources to translate for her, because they didn’t have a Spanish-speaking translator,” Ashton said. “I mean, Spanish. That’s so much easier that Burmese, Karen. You don’t have [a Spanish] translator yet? When did this report come out? Months and months ago? Why did it need to have a report to happen? The PRM report says that 40 percent of housekeeping is non-English speaking, and you don’t have translators in Human Resources. That is beyond me.”

The housekeepers also complain about the University’s gradual transition away from a zone-cleaning policy, in which each employee is given the liberty to clean a set space regularly, to a restrictive, team-cleaning policy known as OS1.

Housekeeper James Holman, who serves as the Grievance Support Person on both the Employee Forum and within SEANC’s 25th District, wrote a statement on behalf of the housekeepers criticizing the OS1 policy.

“[The team-cleaning process] reduces the UNC housekeeping employee to a less-than-respected cipher in the system, rather than supporting them as intelligent, hard-working and conscientious employees,” Holman wrote. “This team cleaning system specifies the exact quantities of supplies and the exact techniques that should be used to do each individual task during a work day—and the exact number of minutes it should take to do each task.  Worker productivity is evaluated based on adherence to the time and supply restrictions that this system specifies.”

Ashton puts it in blunter terms.

“OS1 means that you are given a task,” she said. “So you might clean toilets every day for two weeks, and that’s all you do is clean toilets. And you have two minutes to clean every single toilet and you have a packet of soap this big, and you can only use one packet per toilet…It’s very dehumanizing, the whole process….Who just wants to be cleaning toilets from building to building the entire day?”

Davis also criticizes the rigidity of the new cleaning model, saying that the University forces them to use certain chemicals on certain tasks, even if the employee has a harsh reaction to them. As asthmatic, she struggles with the cleaning fluid used on kitchen equipment and was promised a mask, but none has yet been forthcoming.

For Holman, the housekeepers aren’t asking for much—simply safe and respectful conditions in which to do their jobs.

“There are approximately 400 housekeeping employees who have the expectation of being treated respectfully and fairly, of working in an environment free from threats, intimidation and harassment, and of being enabled to do their best job for the University,” Holman wrote.

If the NC General Assembly passes this measure to remove the housekeepers and other low-wage employees from the State Personnel Act and all of its safeguards, achieving Holman’s goals will become much more difficult.

For Alsous, this is the issue that will define her college career.

“Just the fact that their jobs and their livelihoods are at risk for asking for basic treatment and basic conditions,” she said, “it just blows you away…This culture of disrespect, this culture of marginalization is so pervasive.

“For me, the reason why I got involved is not even the unfairness of wages and the unfairness of business practices. To me, it was as a student, this is the narrative that is being perpetuated about me. Workers are being told that I want this for them. And that’s something that I refuse to accept.”

Call to Action: Attend Teach-In/Speak-Out – Wed. 4/4


North Carolina Conference of the American Association of University Professors (NC-AAUP) Letter to Administrations

A similar letter was sent from NC-AAUP to the chancellors at the 15 other universities in the UNC system.

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

SPA Makes all the Difference

Exempt from the State Personnel Act of North Carolina (G.S. 126) Subject to the State Personnel Act of North Carolina (G.S. 126)
EPA positions do not earn over or comp time. They are exempt from the federal Fair Labor Standards Act. HRS determines whether or not an SPA employee is subject to or exempt from the Fair Labor Standards Act based upon the responsibilities of the position. Those positions subject to FLSA may earn comp or over time.
Certain EPA employees may elect to participate in TSERS or may choose an optional retirement program. Participation in Teachers’ and State Employees’ Retirement System(TSERS) is mandatory if an SPA employee is eligible to participate in a retirement program.
No classification or salary grade system State classification and salary grade system
Subject to mandatory departmental performance review Performance Management Program is mandatory.
Personnel served by the Office of the Provost under the authority of the UNC Board of Governors (except in the administration of benefits) Personnel served by the Department of Human Resource Services under the authority of the Office of State Personnel

The Basics

LTE about Senate Bill 575 in News and Observer (March 20, 2012)

UNC worker rights

A bill proposed in the state Senate, SB 575, would radically change the rights of workers across UNC-system schools. SB 575 would remove university employees from the legal guarantees provided to them under the State Personnel Act and give sole and complete authority to the Board of Governors to manage SPA positions.

With this change, the Board of Governors would determine all parameters of employment for UNC system employees, including setting health and disability benefits, wages, grievance policies, disciplinary measures and human resources policies. There would be no higher authority, no external, objective system of checks and balances to catch possible or actual abuses of power.

The consequences of this legislation are that workers would face an even more difficult work environment, becoming essentially at-will employees who can be fired without any explicit justification and without any method of legal redress, both of which they are currently entitled to under the State Personnel Act; workers who speak out for better working conditions or wages could be fired, reinforcing an environment that disrespects and silences workers at North Carolina universities.

We as a community cannot allow this legislation to move forward.

Zaina Alsous