September/October 2021 Issue
August 21, 2021

College unions advocate for safe reopenings

Author: Ned Hoskin
Source: NYSUT United

The state has mandated that all students who want to register and attend class on SUNY, CUNY and community college campuses must be vaccinated against COVID-19.

Campus employee unions are striving to ensure their members are as safe as possible, through vaccinations, testing and environmental protections.

United University Professions reached out to its membership this summer with the message that vaccines are safe and effective, and protect vulnerable members of society who cannot be vaccinated.

In partnership with NYSUT and the American Federation of Teachers, (see article, page 14) the union also is assisting with health and safety trainings, information tables and regional meetings.

“We are very concerned about ensuring that all of our members on campuses are vaccinated, but we are just as concerned about our retirees all across the country,” UUP President Fred Kowal said. UUP represents SUNY faculty and staff.

He reiterated that concern as he announced the union’s #VaxUpUUP campaign to encourage vaccination.

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“UUP members have been on the front lines of the pandemic caring for patients at SUNY hospitals and supporting students through remote and in-person learning at campuses for over a year … keeping our communities healthy and educating the next generation of leaders,” Kowal said.

He asked members to “honor that commitment” by getting vaccinated to protect colleagues, students, families and communities.

Based on recent survey results, UUP estimates that 90 percent of the bargaining unit has been vaccinated.

The union and SUNY reached an agreement that any unvaccinated employees who are part of UUP will be tested weekly for COVID-19 throughout the fall semester.

Drawing on the latest research, the Professional Staff Congress at CUNY has developed a set of standards to promote safe reopening.

The union says reopening plans for 2021–22 must incorporate these standards and be easily available for inspection by all CUNY students, staff and faculty. Colleges must also make available all relevant environmental inspection reports and records of compliance with approved reopening plans.

The standards include meaningful participation by the union in reopening plans; steps to maximize vaccination and minimize introduction of infections and the transmission of COVID-19 on campus; adequate and compliant ventilation; accommodations for remote work to protect the safety and health of individuals and the public; a right to inspect any workplace where PSC-represented employees must work; specific standards for laboratories and studios; and compliance with the contractual workload.

The union has trained more than 100 PSC members to accompany campus facilities staff and administrators on pre-occupancy walkthroughs of buildings scheduled for reopening.

“Only when we feel secure about our working conditions can we get back to meeting the needs of our amazing students in person,” said PSC President James Davis.

Community colleges around the state, with autonomous unions and local administrations, are still wrestling with these issues on individual campuses, said Roberta Elins, president of the United College Employees at Fashion Institute of Technology and a NYSUT Board member representing community colleges.

“As our campuses are urban, suburban and rural, each of us face unique challenges, but what binds us all together as union presidents is to ensure the safety of our members and our students,” Elins said.