At Legislative Hearing AFSCME Members Testify on Lack of Basic Health and Safety Plan Within Higher Education

Legislators from the Senate Education, Business and Administration Subcommittee, and House Education and Economic Development Subcommittee held a briefing today to discuss higher education issues, with a specific focus on the fall reopening of campuses during COVID. Presenters included the University System of Maryland (USM), Saint Mary's College of Maryland, the Maryland Independent Colleges and Universities Association (MICUA), and AFSCME Council 3.

The USM presented numbers regarding the COVID compliance of the different campuses around the state.  “Compliance” can mean vaccinated, religious exemption, or health exemption.  Given each campus has a different definition of what an exemption entails, it is hard to compare numbers, though the USM did make a point of stating that the HBCU campuses were not as compliant.  The USM also skimmed over the various steps they have taken (or not taken) regarding mitigating the spread of COVID-19.

AFSCME Council 3 President Patrick Moran opened the union's presentation discussing a positive engagement with Morgan State University. AFSCME has represented Morgan State University employees for over 20 years – but it has only been in the last four years that employees have been able to make gains that make a real difference in their pocketbooks and in their lives. Morgan has agreed to raise the minimum wage for the campus employees to $15 an hour, as well as converting many contractual workers to full-time employees with benefits such as health insurance and pensions. President Moran pointed out that unfortunately, the University System has not followed suit. Instead of joining the State in ensuring a floor of $15 an hour minimum for university employees, they have instead allowed each school to determine their own rate, leaving hundreds of University System employees below the $15 per hour wage. AFSCME has repeatedly attempted to engage the USM in negotiations over wages, health and safety, and other pressing issues, which is why we are fighting so hard to create consolidated bargaining with the university system through legislation that was passed this last legislative session but vetoed by Governor Hogan.

AFSCME Local 1072 Executive Board member Celina Sargusingh also presented, providing a compelling story centered on the lack of basic health and safety protocols during this ongoing pandemic; receiving no hazard pay despite working in consistently hazardous conditions at the Health Center at College Park; having to work side by side with contractual employees that actually made more money than she does; and describing the ongoing fight to win fair and just telework policies, as well as paid administrative leave when employees have to take time off because of COVID sickness, or exposure to COVID. Celina stated “Supervisors are telling employees they must use their own personal time to quarantine.  Telework as an option is being used less and less despite going a full year teleworking for many.  There is no COVID administrative leave with pay.  If an employee must quarantine and doesn't have enough leave, then it becomes leave without pay – through no fault of their own.” Sargusingh ended her presentation with “(w)e have a lot of work to do to make the USM fair, safe, and equitable for the people that they (the USM) need to run their day-to-day operations. We appreciate the committee's continued interest in the work of our members and holding the universities accountable.”