UMD housekeepers file complaint with labor board over inadequate conditions amid COVID-19

The entrance to Ellicott Hall. (File photo/The Diamondback)

The union that represents University of Maryland workers filed a complaint with the State Higher Education Labor Relations Board last week, alleging that housekeepers on campus do not have the equipment or training to do their jobs safely during the coronavirus pandemic, The Washington Post reported Friday evening.

In May, the union — the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 3 Local 1072 — sent a memo to university leadership, demanding that all employees returning to work on campus be tested for COVID-19 and receive adequate cleaning supplies and disinfectants, as well as personal protective equipment such as N-95 masks, goggles, gowns and gloves.

Later that month, AFSCME submitted a request to bargain letter to the university, asking to negotiate campuswide mandatory screening procedures, testing for union-represented workers and training specific to the novel coronavirus, among other demands. The university declined that request to bargain, as well as four other requests, according to the labor complaint.

“[The university] was not working with us in good faith to develop policies and procedures, it was just — they would listen to what we said and get back to us later, after they had made a decision,” AFSCME Local 1072 organizer Marc Seiden said last month.

[UMD takes more steps to help housekeepers working without AC]

The higher education labor relations board has reviewed the complaint and asked the university for a response, one official told the Post. According to the Post’s story, this board will issue a decision after reviewing the university’s response.

A university spokesperson told the Post that the school does not comment on pending complaints or litigation proceedings.

On Tuesday and Wednesday, the university offered free, voluntary COVID-19 testing for employees, graduate assistants and students. According to a guide on the University Human Resources’ website, all employees working on campus are also required to participate in a self-screening process every day.

University spokesperson Katie Lawson also wrote in an email that residential facilities staff were given two cloth face masks to use whenever they need to. Employees may receive a mask at the start of the day and can request an additional one from a supervisor as needed, Lawson wrote.

However, the Post reported last month that one housekeeper who tested positive for COVID-19 believes she contracted the virus while at work. 

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

This also isn’t the first time the union has accused the university of not adequately protecting the health and safety of its members at work: Two years ago, AFSCME said dozens of housekeepers fell ill after the university did not provide them with proper equipment and training for cleaning mold.

One housekeeper, Maria Ayala, started taking unpaid time off last month after falling ill with a headache and nausea while at work. Although her doctor later told her that her symptoms were because working without air conditioning had aggravated her asthma, Ayala initially feared they signaled COVID-19.

“We are not safe,” Ayala said earlier this month. “Like I always say, not everybody can do our job … We didn’t go to school for a different job, but it should be better.”

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