University Housekeepers Concerned for Their Health as Campuses Reopen

Union files complaint seeking safety protocols to prevent spread of COVID-19

July 21, 2020

As housekeepers at the University of Maryland’s two campuses prepare for students to return to campus this fall, many are fearful that students will not follow safety protocols designed to help stop the spread of the novel coronavirus, such as wearing masks, The Baltimore Sun reports. As housekeepers are essential workers and do not have the choice to work remotely, like professors and other university staff, they are concerned about contracting COVID-19.

Earlier this month, the university began taking the temperatures of employees and visitors who entered the university’s Easter Shore campus. The university also has designated specific dorms for students that test positive for COVID-19 once they return in the fall. However, housekeeping staff isn’t aware of any plans to screen students’ temperatures or to test them for COVID-19 before they enter campus or before they show any symptoms of illness. This lack of communication is causing university housekeepers to worry about their safety at work.

Leaders with the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) union, the union representing housekeepers and facilities workers at the university’s College Park campus, filed a complaint with the Maryland State Higher Education Labor Relations Board earlier this month urging the school to enforce a mandatory coronavirus testing policy and to supply more protective equipment and coronavirus-specific training to staff. Housekeepers expressed concern that there are no temperature checks or other screenings required for staff working in the dorms. Instead, the workers reporting to campus are told to fill out an online form that asks them to report any symptoms they are experiencing and take their own temperatures.

One housekeeper has tested positive for COVID-19 and the school ended football practices after several athletes tested positive. The university has hosted voluntary coronavirus testing on campus but will not make testing mandatory when students return in the fall.

Meanwhile, housekeepers at the College Park campus have also been forced to contend with a lack of air conditioning, as it has been shut off for summer maintenance. This maintenance is being conducted to reduce moisture and prevent excessive mold, which forced hundreds of students to move into hotels in 2018. Housekeepers have reported breathing issues and vomiting as a result of working in the hot buildings. The university is providing fans and cool water and encouraging the housekeepers to work during the evening when it’s cooler and to take more frequent breaks.

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