Housekeepers Petition Chancellor Thorp for Changes Within the Department

UNC housekeepers want manager reassigned
 By Gregory Childress; 419-6645

CHAPEL HILL – UNC housekeepers want Chancellor Holden Thorp to reassign a top manager in Housekeeping Services whom they claim engages in harassing and intimidating behavior.

The housekeepers, students and other supporters, including labor unions and the Chapel Hill-Carrboro NAACP, have planned a rally today at noon in front of the South Building to demand that Tonya Sell, assistant director of Housekeeping Services, be reassigned.

Sell, who did a 15-year stretch in the Navy, has been a source of much consternation among housekeepers since she instituted a “no sit-down” policy last fall that forbids housekeepers from taking even a short break without first getting it approved by a supervisor.

Housekeepers have also complained that Sell, who supervises about 100 workers, lacks professionalism, threatens employees and engages in verbal abuse.

“She doesn’t treat us with respect,” said longtime UNC housekeeper Odessa Davis. “That’s something that I really, really want is for her to treat us like we’re somebody and she doesn’t do that.”

Still, Davis said she doesn’t want to see Sell fired, just moved from Housing Services.

“I think she should be reassigned,” Davis said. “I don’t like to see people out of work, but she needs to be reassigned somewhere else other than housekeeping.”

Sell, who also has been accused of forging an employee’s signature, did not return calls to The Chapel Hill Herald by its deadline Thursday.

The forgery allegedly occurred when Sell dated and signed a zone manager’s name on his performance review.

“I have a written statement from him,” said James Holman, a housekeeper and chairman of the Employee Forum’s policy and practice committee. “This is a bad example for her to set for her managers and I’m pretty sure it’s illegal.”

UNC spokesman Mike McFarland said in an email message that the university is restricted from discussing job performance issues involving a specific staff member under the state Public Records Act and state Personnel Act.

Brenda Malone, the university’s vice chancellor for human resources, confirmed McFarland’s statement, but added that the university is not indifferent.

“The allegations noted in this petition are indeed serious, and the University takes these issues extremely seriously,” Malone said in an emailed statement.

Laurel Ashton, leader of Student Action With Workers, said the fact that Sell remained in a supervisory role in the wake of such serious allegations is cause for great concern about the leadership at the university.

“Tonya Sell is a major problem in the department, but the real problem is an administration that allows her to continue to do illegal things,” Ashton said.

In response to housekeepers’ complaints, the university contracted with PRM Consulting Group to conduct an assessment of the climate and culture of Housekeeping Services and to provide alternative solutions and approaches to address any concerns found.

The firm began conducting individual interviews with employees, managers and others in April.

McFarland said PRM has not finalized its report and there is no timetable for addressing recommendations the firm might bring forth.

Malone said PRM’s report will be released later this month “and the University will act swiftly on the recommendations presented there.”

Ashton said the housekeepers, and those who support them, are not convinced the report will be a magic bullet to cure ills in Housekeeping Services.

She also said housekeepers should not have to wait an extended period for their concerns to be addressed.

“These issues are happening now, and they need to be dealt with now,” Ashton said. “We’re not putting much hope in PRM.”

Read more: The Herald-Sun – UNC housekeepers want manager reassigned

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Sexual Harassment in UNC Housekeeping!

UNC Housekeeper Files Sexual Harassment Suit

In the three months she worked under the ever-watchful eye of her supervisor, Wade Farrington, UNC housekeeper Amanda Hulon became an expert at taking out the garbage—very delicately.

“[Farrington] would be standing right directly behind me while I’m bending over picking up trash,” she recalls, the tip of her cigarette glowing orange in her Carrboro apartment. “He would be, ‘Mmm, mmm, mmm, look at that ass.’ Or he would call me into his office and constantly be rubbing his crotch while he’s talking.”

Court documents corroborate her allegations. Hulon, represented by Chapel Hill civil rights attorney Al McSurely, has filed a complaint with the North Carolina Office of Administrative Hearings. The case is scheduled to be heard Aug. 29.

UNC spokesman Mike McFarland said he could not comment on the case. Farrington, Housekeeping Director Bill Burston and Business Officer Van Dobson did not respond to calls for comment.

McFarland said that earlier this week, UNC named Lea Holt interim director of housekeeping to replace Burston, who earned about $38,000 a year in that position. McFarland did not say if, or to what post, Burston had been reassigned. Holt had been director of University Mail Services.

Hulon says the abuse began on her fourth day at work. Even before then, the complaint states, Farrington had offered to lend Hulon money several times, including on the day of her job interview. He knew her temporary job had ended and that she had not been permanently employed for almost four months.

During her first three days at work, she declined Farrington’s loan, even though she was struggling to pay bills. On the fourth day, she accepted $150 from Farrington and promised to repay it from her first paycheck.

The next day, Sept. 11, 2008, Farrington allegedly called Hulon to his office and told her that his favor deserved one in return.

“Well, first of all, if you want to work for me, you are going to have to learn how to shut your mouth and not tell anyone what goes on between you and I,” the complaint states Farrington said. “If you fuck me, I can make your job very comfortable. If not, I will make your job very difficult.”

The lawsuit describes Hulon’s predicament as a “triple-bind”: “damned if she did, damned if she didn’t, and damned if she told anyone about it.”

Hulon says her life became hellacious. Over the next three months, Farrington intentionally bumped into her, grabbed her inappropriately and called her into his office and touched himself in front of her, the complaint states.

Finally, she was transferred to a new zone outside of Farrington’s reach, but the problems worsened, she says.

The new supervisor, Gwen Stanley, is a friend of Farrington, the complaint states, and “initiated a retaliatory campaign against Ms. Hulon with the obvious purpose to make the workplace intolerable and to constructively discharge her.”

Hulon received warnings for being out sick, being late, leaving early and other attendance concerns, the complaint states. Hulon says she had never received a write-up before then. Now she had 15 counselings—warnings of unsatisfactory performance—a write-up and a one-week suspension without pay, which she later appealed and was overturned.

“After an extensive review of the case the University has determined that you received disciplinary actions for departmental policy violations, while others in the department who engaged in the same or similar conduct did not receive the same level of discipline,” UNC Equal Opportunity/ ADA Officer Ann Penn wrote to Hulon in November.

“However there is not conclusive evidence to support the allegation that the inconsistent application of disciplinary action was in retaliation for your earlier sexual harassment complaint.”

Penn went on to write that she recommended Hulon be transferred to a new zone away from Stanley and to have her suspension rescinded.

But problems lie not only with the facilities services administration but also with a grievance procedure that the housekeepers can’t trust, says Jonathan Stephenson, chairman of the State Employees Association of North Carolina (SEANC 25) and a UNC School of Medicine program assistant.

“A lot of employees, I get calls they are in fear of their jobs, they are in fear of their safety,” he says. “This is not one instance that we are jumping, no, it’s a collective. My phone rings off the hook whether it’s my cellphone, my office phone or my home phone.”

Stephenson says the “culture of sexual harassment in housekeeping” is well known, even at the uppermost reaches of the university administration.

UNC Chancellor Holden Thorp responded to organized protests about harassment, discrimination and unfair working conditions by allocating $104,000 to hire PRM Consulting Group, a human resources firm from Washington, D.C.

“This had been going on for at least 50 years that I know of, and we decided to try something that hasn’t been tried for 50 years to see if we can pull us out of this continuous cycle of conflict,” Thorp told the UNC-CH Employee Forum, a group of staff elected by peers to advocate for better working conditions, in December, according to the University Gazette.

PRM Consulting has been on campus since April and plans to spend six months interviewing employees and observing the workplace before issuing a final report.

Hulon says she tried to resolve her workplace issues by following UNC’s grievance process, but the system failed her, the complaint states.

She met with Wayne Blair, UNC’s ombudsman, six days after Farrington’s demand for sex. However, under UNC policy, that meeting doesn’t constitute a formal notice of a grievance that would protect Hulon from retaliation.

Hulon says she then tried talking to Dobson, who referred her to Burston, the director of housekeeping, the complaint states. Burston assured her that he would handle it.

Burston transferred Hulon to Stanley’s zone. But in violation of the grievance policy, he did not provide her with any information on the appeals process or written statements of the remedies he would carry out, the complaint states.

Stephenson says efforts to improve the working conditions are being scuppered because many housekeepers don’t feel comfortable talking about their supervisors and fear retaliation.

“There’s a lot of fear, a lot of anger,” Stephenson says. “We feel that this is a dangerous situation that could spiral out of control, and that’s why we are going to bring it to chancellor’s attention.”

But Hulon won’t be intimidated or silenced, she says.

“My main goal is to hopefully get everyone in housekeeping, especially the Burmese and Karen community, to see that I’m not scared, I’m talking,” she says. “I’m putting myself out there; my name, everything out there and telling what happened to me. They don’t have to be scared either. I’m really hoping that’s what comes of it, I really do.”

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UNC Workers Sit Out!

All-Day Sit-Out in Support of Campus Workers! Rally at Noon!
This Thursday April 7, 2011
9am: Join workers for an all-day sit-out in front of South Building!
12 noon: Rally of student’s, workers, and community
Join campus workers from 9am-5pm on Thursday April 7th on the steps of South Building to protest attacks on workers rights! There will be food, speakers, conversation, performances and community.

It’s important to try to be there all day, or as much of the day as you can. Skip class, rearrange appointments, ask off from professors. But, if you can only make part of the day, the most important part will be from 12 noon to 1pm, when workers, students, and com will rally and speak out to the media.

Facilities workers from around campus have decided to take vacation time and sit on the steps of South Building next Thursday to protest unfair schedule changes by management. They and other workers are courageously standing up for their rights and for a voice on the job in this time of budget cuts, tuition hikes, and other attacks on workers and students.

It’s essential that we as students support them and sit-out with them! With the climate of fear and intimidation that workers face constantly from management, it’s a risk to speak out as a worker on this campus, let alone to protest publicly. These unfair schedule changes that workers are facing are just another example of the administration trying to balance the budget on the backs of workers and students, and we’ve all got to unite to fight these attacks. As workers, they face retaliation, increased health care costs, unfair schedule changes, intimidation, and decreased benefits.

We gotta work together to fight for justice on the job and dignity in the workplace for campus workers!

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An Easy Way to Take Action in Support of the Sanitation 2

Call Chapel Hill mayor Mark Kleinschmidt within the next few days and demand that the town of Chapel Hill stop retaliation for grievances and union organizing and rehire the Sanitation 2!

919 968 2743

Every little bit helps.

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Solidarity with the Workers and Students in Wisconsin from SAW and UNC SDS

Students for a Democratic Society at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and UNC Student Action with Workers salute the heroic resitance of the workers and students of Wisconson to the anti-labor attacks of Gov. Walker. In this time of economic crisis, corporate servants such as Walker are doing all they can to make working people pay for this crisis. Across the country, education is being defunded and privatized, public workers are being laid off and having their wages frozen, and organized labor is under attack.

The right to join a union and collectively bargain with your employer is a right for all people, according to the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights written in 1948. Yet Walker and others across the country are trying to rob the people of this right with underhanded, undemocratic legislative tricks. The mass demonstrations of thousands as well as the occupation of the capital building in Wisconson inspire us here in North Carolina.

Our state knows all too well how legislation like Walker’s hurts the working class. A bill that makes collective bargaining illegal for public workers, NC GS 95-98, has been on the books in North Carolina since the Jim Crow era. The outlawing of union rights for public workers, who are around the country more unionized than the private sector, weakens the entire labor movement in any state. As a result, North Carolina has one of the lowest levels of unionization in the country, as well as low wages and less rights for workers in all sectors.

Students for a Democratic Society and Student Action With Workers stand in solidarity with the workers of Wisconson! Workers rights are human rights!

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SAW is back on the web!

SAW has started to update our website once again!

We are involved in new and exciting campaigns on and off campus. Check them out!

UNC-Ch Housekeeper dignity and rights are under attack once again. The University has imposed an inhumane “no sit-down” policy. We see it as another manifestation of the overall culture of managerial disrespect that the housekeepers are subject to every day. A culture made painfully clear in the DTH article about Assistant Director for Residence Halls Tonya Sells.

The City of Chapel Hill was recently awarded a “human rights city” designation, and already they have shown that we fall far short of the title. Sanitation workers Karry Bigelow and Clyde Clark were recently fired after they filed grievances about racist management and unsafe working conditions. They are active members of the local public sectors union UE 150. Student Action with Workers says no to retaliation and union busting activity!

As a student based organization, SAW is committed to identifying the ways that we as UNC-Ch students help maintain inhumane and imperialist-driven sweatshops around the world.  We demand that Chapel Hill student stores begin to sell Alta Gracia products, an apparel line that is union-made where workers are paid a living wage in sweatshop free conditions, so that students have the option to be responsible consumers.

Keep tuned in to hear updates on each of our campaigns!

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The Budget Crisis

Times of economic crisis create problems for every worker. Universities are not immune to these conditions; everyone from tenured professors to part-time landscapers feel the full strain of budget cuts. On Feb. 25th, Governor Perdue asked for an additional 2% immediate spending reduction by state agencies, totaling 9% in temporary cuts for our current academic year (WRAL, 25 Feb.). Next semester promises permanent cuts in public funds to UNC of at least 7%. According to a report released by university administration, the current level of expected cuts for next year will result in elimination of 198 staff members and 203 faculty and teaching positions (Daily Tarheel, 5 Feb. 2009).

Now, more than ever, workers are vulnerable to exploitation at work. Administrators and management have larger pools of potentially cheap labor and face less pressure to listen to worker demands. Hard earned tax money from the masses are funneled into the coffers of corporate billionaires with little to no accountability of how they spend the funds. Home foreclosures in conjunction with massive layoffs not only create hundreds of thousands without jobs but also without homes as well. What’s more, government programs meant to alleviate the people in times of crisis face severe cuts of up to half their funds. In such uncertain times, workers must unify to demand transparency in the budget cutting process, access to equal information vital to making sustainable, long-term economic decisions and a democratic voice in their workplace.

SAW stands in solidarity with students and workers affected by economic depression.  In this historic time of duress, we are most compelled to establish that which all workers deserve: equality and ownership in every occupation.

DTH article:

WRAL article:

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Grievance letter to Vice Chancellor of Campus Services

October 3, 2008

Carolyn Elfland
Associate Vice Chancellor, Campus Services
305 South Building, CB# 1000
The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Chapel Hill, NC 27599-1000

Dear Ms. Elfland:

Today’s Daily Tar Heel indicates that you are unaware of the intimidation some supervisors under your chain-of-command are employing against some housekeepers.

To be specific, I have been told that the supervisor who addressed the housekeepers as “you people” and told them that they are all replaceable was [name redacted].

I have also been told that [name redacted] and possibly others have warned the housekeepers not to speak to the media, to students, or to union representatives about the content of the meetings of the Housing Housekeeping Committee (HHC).  As I am sure you are aware, this is a violation of public employees’ 1st Amendment rights.  The Employee Forum conveyed these same concerns in their letter to the Chancellor, approved Wednesday.

I have been told that the publicly available minutes of the HHC are not an accurate reflection of discussions.

I have been told that housekeepers have been interrogated about their contacts with Student Action with Workers, their union representative, and others.  In this case, I use the word “interrogated” in its negative connotation, deliberately and without exaggeration.

I have over the years received numerous reports about intimidation and mismanagement of housekeepers by [name redacted], including recent reports about his/her behavior in meetings of the HHC.

It is my expectation that you will conduct a thorough investigation of these allegations, of all supervisors connected with HHC, and take appropriate action.

As you may recall, I copied you on a letter dated 8/6/2007, in which I raised numerous concerns about the practice of harsh discipline in Facilities Services.  In the last year, I have seen no effort to modify this practice.   Should the allegations against these supervisors prove correct, it is my expectation that disciplinary actions against them be equally harsh.

Additionally, it is clear that most of these supervisors require remedial training appropriate to their misconduct.

It has also been reported to me that a housekeeper who signed up for grievance training in September, was denied the opportunity to attend on that day.  I have not talked to this housekeeper yet, but I presume it was because the workload in housekeeping did not permit it.

Historically, housekeeping has run with little or no organizational slack. This denies many housekeepers the opportunity that most other employees have to participate in university affairs and training programs.  In January, I spoke to Brenda Malone about the dearth of African-American men who participate in the grievance process as panelists and support persons. Prior to this September’s training, I made a concerted effort to encourage African-American men to enroll.  I understand four enrolled and three attended.  We must do better than this.

I realize that Housing and Residential Education (HRE) has funding problems.  I know these problems are in part the result of managerial misestimates and the fact that our revolving Board of Governors and Board of Trustees cannot make up their minds about how many students should be enrolled.  The legislature appears strapped to fund those enrollment increases that are approved.

Nevertheless, we cannot allow “budget constraints” or “the indebtedness of receipt-funded operations” to be excuses for this pattern of visiting their consequences in a disparate manner on the lowest paid employees.  The ongoing failure of management to provide enough organizational slack in housekeeping is an example of historic, institutional racism and sexism. The failure to provide equitable treatment to African-Americans and women is well-documented in reports from the Office of State Personnel.

Since October is National Work and Family Month, and the Work/Life Office in the Office of Human Resources is offering a variety of seminars to aid employees in easing the conflict between work and personal time, I would hope that you and Ms. Malone would make a concerted effort to ensure that all employees have equal opportunity to avail themselves of these seminars.

Finally, I request that at least two students who are knowledgeable about housekeeping operations in HRE be appointed to the HHC.  Students are stakeholders and are impacted by the proposed changes to staffing levels. I will be happy to provide the names of qualified candidates.

I further request that meetings of the HHC be open to the public.  Some of your supervisors are apparently incapable of decent behavior at this time without public oversight.

Very truly yours,

Steve Hutton
Employee Relations Chair
SEANC District 25

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**speak-out and letter delivery rescheduled**

Due to heavy rains, this event has been rescheduled for Thursday, Sept. 18 (tomorrow).  It will take place at noon, in the pit.

Here is a link to the new facebook event for this event.

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support UNC housekeepers at noon this Tuesday (9/16) in the pit

Come and show your support of our housekeepers during International Housekeepers Week by gathering in the pit at noon on Tuesday and hearing what they have to say. Follow them in support as they deliver a letter of their concerns and requests to our administration in South Building.

Join the facebook event and invite others to come!

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