As the wind blew across the oversized “Terrapin Strong” mask displayed on McKeldin Library on Friday morning, a bag of N95 masks sat near the steps.
“It’s really offensive that they would put that mask up there without actually providing adequate PPE,” said Emily Fox, a junior philosophy, politics and economics major.
Four University of Maryland students, all members of United Students Against Sweatshops, were outside the library Friday to distribute the N95 masks. The masks, provided by the union, were for union members, Fox said. And the event was designed to push this university, and university President Darryll Pines in particular, to bargain with AFSCME Local 1072, the union that represents this university’s employees, said senior Michael Katski.
The student organization put out social media, email and phone blasts throughout the fall semester, said Michael Marinelli. USAS members also spent Friday’s event taking videos of workers sharing their demands for this university. The organization will be sharing the worker’s stories on social media over the next few days, in an attempt to get the university’s attention, said Katski, a communication and English major.
Though Pines has never directly responded to USAS, Marinelli said, they’re hoping he will this time.
“We’re hoping that by continuing to escalate, holding him accountable, calling him out on social media and in person like this … he will actually respond to us, or take action to protect the lives of workers,” said Marinelli, a senior English major.
Students in USAS say the university isn’t providing sufficient personal protective equipment to all workers. The union’s contract with the university has no stipulations about anything related to COVID-19, including PPE, according to Todd Holden, the president of AFSCME Local 1072.
The university is following local, state and federal practices and guidelines to protect the campus community, according to a university statement provided to The Diamondback.
The university has implemented required training based on Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Occupational Safety and Health Administration guidelines, as well as additional training on infection control and proper personal protective equipment utilization, according to the statement.
Campus workers receive masks “regularly” and may request additional masks throughout their work days, the statement read. The university provides PPE, which may include N95 respirators, to employees based on their job duties per CDC and OSHA guidelines, according to the statement.
Per official guidelines, N95 respirators are not required for housekeeping and maintenance employees in campus buildings, but they are provided when requested in “certain congregate housing environments,” according to information provided by the university.
“Under no circumstances would we advise or permit denial of a protective mask to any of our employees in a pandemic,” the statement read. “If such an event occurred, we would urge the employee to report it.”
Since the return to campus on June 15, there has been no known virus transmission attributed to the Residential Facilities work environment, according to information provided by this university.
Casey Ottenwaelder, a junior community health major, stressed the importance of solidarity with workers.
“They make our education possible, and they’re being disrespected so much,” they said. “As students, we’re stakeholders in the university, and we pay tuition. It doesn’t make sense for us to be paying the university and the president’s administration hundreds of thousands of dollars while workers are being sacrificed to keep the university open.”
One of the workers who stopped by was Nathan Sparks, a shop steward and bus driver. He told Fox enough is enough.
“We need UMD administration to come to the table and bargain with us over these issues to protect the workers and the students, faculty and other staff on campus,” he said.
Sparks said the university gave him two face masks when he came back to work in August. But he says he thinks employees need at least five if they are working a five-day work schedule — especially housekeepers and frontline workers who are in contact with people in quarantine or isolation.
Right now, he and other bus drivers do not feel safe at work, he said.
Holden also shared his perspective. Since the beginning of the pandemic, workers have been facing huge burdens in terms of reporting to work safely, acquiring insufficient PPE and achieving a work-life balance, he said.
Once again, he called on the university to bargain with the union. To make sure the entire campus community is kept safe, there have to be “substantive agreements” between this university and the union, Holden said.
“I stand with USAS, and I fully support their actions today,” he said. “I deeply appreciate it on behalf of all the workers here on campus.”
Saul Walker, the multi-trade chief in this university’s Residential Facilities department, stressed that bargaining will show the university what is happening on campus — a lack of health and safety for students and employees.
In preparation for the event, the USAS members designed a banner. In bright, big red and green letters, the banner read: “STUDENT SAFETY = WORKER SAFETY.”
“We want to protect workers, and that would protect students,” Marinelli said.
Two students held the banner near the Testudo statue. Ulric Bethel, a Dining Services cook and food service manager, stood in front of it. He looked over to Fox, who was filming him.
“What are you demanding from UMD?” she asked.
“I am demanding worker safety,” he motioned to the words on his left. Then, he pointed to his right. “And student safety.”