UMD takes more steps to help housekeepers working without AC

Bel Air Hall, one of the buildings wtih a deactivated AC system, on July 10, 2020. (Julia Nikhinson/The Diamondback)

The University of Maryland has identified “cooling solutions” for all 19 dorms on the campus that have had no air conditioning since June 26, university spokesperson Natifia Mullings wrote in an email Tuesday evening.

The university shut off the air conditioning in these dorms to conduct maintenance on their HVAC systems — replacing equipment and piping, checking fan coil units and changing filters, among other operations. Since then, the union that represents employees at the university says several housekeepers have fallen ill after working without air conditioning.

Now, Mullings wrote, every dorm where work is occurring will have a dedicated air conditioned space where employees can take breaks. The university will turn on the air conditioning in some buildings during “hours of occupancy” and will monitor moisture levels, Mullings wrote, and other buildings will have “dedicated cooling lounges.”

[UMD shut off AC in many dorms to combat moisture. Housekeepers are falling ill without it.]

Todd Holden, interim president of the union’s local chapter, praised the university’s most recent steps. He said new university President Darryll Pines met with the union — the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 3 Local 1072 — Monday afternoon, where he and AFSCME representatives “worked through the issues at hand.”

“We are in a far better place than we were on Friday, and the union certainly welcomes the dialogue and the collaboration toward solving this,” Holden said Tuesday night. “We are cautiously optimistic that this is well on its way to being resolved.”

 

 

AFSCME and Pines have another meeting scheduled for Thursday afternoon to measure progress, Holden said. He wrote in a text message Wednesday night that some housekeepers continue to experience heat-related health difficulties and are having to leave the worksite, but that the union appreciates the administration’s efforts so far.

“AFSCME will advocate for the [Residential Facilities] workers’ safety until this issue is fully resolved,” Holden wrote.

[As housekeepers fall ill without AC, UMD announces new measures to improve conditions]

The latest cooling measures come in addition to steps the university announced last Friday to accommodate housekeepers working without air conditioning — including offering alternative working hours to limit their exposure to the hottest parts of the day and temporarily reassigning them to other duties in the event of “certain conditions of heat and humidity.”

The university is also considering other options to expedite the maintenance operations — hiring contract workers, for example — so that work may be completed before the planned Aug. 9 end date, Mullings wrote on Friday.

In the meantime, the university has also been providing housekeepers working without air conditioning cold water stations and encouraging them to take more breaks and work at a slower pace, Mullings wrote.

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