UNC Employees Pressing for Better Working Conditions

Career advancement, more benefits and schedule flexibility are among the requests of a task force of staff and faculty representatives studying ways to improve campus morale among workers at the University.

The Chancellor’s Task Force for a Better Workplace conducted meetings throughout the fall semester and polled about 2,000 participants on issues that committee members considered most pertinent to the campus. A prominent suggestion in the group’s 42-page report was for the creation of a campus ombudsman to handle staff disputes internally and serve as an advocate for employee interests before the University.

The task force was created at the suggestion of Student Body President Matt Tepper, who also served on the committee. Chancellor James Moeser and Employee Forum Chair Tommy Griffin co-chaired the task force.

University staff, particularly the lowest-paid workers, have kept their issues visible to the administration in recent years, often enlisting students who sympathized. Campus morale has sagged particularly in the past year as employees have paid more for health insurance coverage and campus parking while they have had no raises and have seen some benefits decrease. The task force hopes to reinstate other staff-friendly measures, including computer literacy classes, more opportunities for learning experiences at UNC and local community colleges, a staff emergency loan program and expanded bus routes.

The group believes more dialogue between employees and administrators also is needed. Knowing that issues related to salaries frequently spark complaints, the group set that topic aside and focused instead on matters of workplace conditions and job quality – causes that are closest to many employees, said Ron Strauss, a dental ecology professor and member of the task force.

“The task force had to do mainly with issues that impact the lives of employees, who often get bypassed and forgotten,” Strauss said. “Some things, like the health care, will require the chancellor and administrators to do more advocacy. To convince people you need to change the system, those are longer term initiatives and very complicated to do.”

UNC’s administration has no direct discretion on health-care plans, which are decided by the N.C. General Assembly.

Strauss said there is discussion about creating an undergraduate degree program for University employees, and that current tuition waivers, which now enable employees to take one class per semester free of charge, may be expanded to include employee spouses.

The task force was inspired in part by UNC’s reading program last summer, when freshmen read a novel titledNickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting by in America. The book, which documented the author’s difficulties in earning a living while working various low-paying jobs, led many UNC employees to claim they were having similar trouble with the low wages they earned working at the University. Employees held teach-ins on the matter and sought an audience with Moeser to discuss their concerns.

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