September 16th Higher Education Re-Opening Oversight Hearing

Higher Education Oversight Hearing on Re-Opening: Fall 2020

AFSCME Council 3 won an important oversight hearing on 9/16 of Maryland’s public universities.  The joint hearing, chaired by Del. Ben Barnes of Prince Georges County and Sen. Craig Zucker of Montgomery County and joined by Appropriations Chair McIntosh (Baltimore) and Budget and Tax chair Guzzone (Howard) examined what has been happening in terms of Health and Safety as well as fiscally on each campus and at the University System.  It is vitally important that AFSCME members work as safely as possible, and are treated with dignity and respect during this difficult period.

After hearing from USM and University officials, AFSCME leaders Maria Ayala (UMCP), Quiana Tilghman (UMES), Blair Knouse (FSU) and Todd Holden (UMCP) and Stuart Katzenberg from the AFSCME Council 3 Staff gave testimony to the assembled senators and delegates.   In the run up to this hearing, AFSCME members and leaders spent hours meeting with legislators so they understood the danger our members face daily on campus and the need for greater oversight. 

At the hearing, members highlighted the inconsistencies within the USM such as lack of in person symptom screening at virtually all campus, lack of clear regular testing schedules, and inadequate quarantine policies.  AFSCME emphasized the need for universal rules on health and safety and how the USM has refused to bargain them.  Weak answers from management backed up AFSCMEs claims of problems throughout campuses and a lack of a strong central response. All in all, the briefing demonstrated yet again the critical need for consolidating – and enforcing – fair and equitable collective bargaining between all of the USM campuses and AFSCME representatives. 

The fight for fairness will continue.  AFSCME will continue to fight to make sure everyone is working safely, compensated fairly and treated with respect.

 To watch AFSCME testimony from the hearing please click here:

Read Press About the Hearing:

Maryland University Staff Describe Unsafe Conditions | WYPR | September 17th, 2020

At Frostburg State University, clear plastic shower curtains hang around staff desks in financial aid and admissions offices to prevent staff and students from passing COVID-19 between them. 

The shower curtains are one of several protective measures that were intended to be temporary but were never replaced with something permanent, said Blair Knouse, the school’s chemistry lab manager and a member of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, or AFSCME.

In another example, AFSCME members were told to drive students who tested positive for COVID-19 to a Quality Inn off campus, where they were to quarantine. To transport the students, the university retrofitted a school van with plastic sheeting and duct tape, Knouse told members of the state House Appropriations and Senate Budget and Taxation committees. 

When the union raised concerns about that plan, Knouse said management’s solution was to bring in non-union workers for the task. 

Part of the problem is that the union was left out of conversations about the school’s reopening plans, he said.

 “Frostburg formed 14 different subcommittees to plan for the reopening of campus,” Knouse said. “Labor was not involved until the plan had been finalized and they had begun implementation.”

Employees Ask For A More Uniform COVID-19 Policy Across Md. Public Universities | Maryland Matters |September 16th, 2020 

Because of the lack of a standard COVID-19 policy across the University System of Maryland, union workers are left to battle the same fight, such as asking for mandatory testing, on each of USM’s 11 campuses, often leading to different results, Stuart Katzenberg, the director of collective bargaining and growth strategies of American Federation of State, County and Municipal Workers Council 3, told lawmakers in a Wednesday afternoon briefing.

“An electrician at Frostburg shouldn’t be treated differently than an electrician at UMES, a coordinator at College Park should not be treated differently than a coordinator at UMBC,” Katzenberg said.

“If we are all allegedly on the same team, then why aren’t we all playing by the same rules,” said Quiana Tilghman, a member of AFSCME.

 Del. Jared Solomon (D-Montgomery) also highlighted that some USM campuses were not doing nearly as much collaboration with their unions as others were. 

AFSCME Council 3 represents more than 90% of all public higher education workers in Maryland. Over 1,000 members worked on USM campuses throughout the summer, but were not given testing until August, Katzenberg said. 

Workers call for improved COVID-19 guidelines across USM institutions in state hearing |Diamondback | September 18th, 2020

For months, union representatives have been pushing for the system to bargain directly with the union to work out a standardized set of health and safety policies for all system institutions. Currently, these policies vary across the system, said Stuart Katzenberg, AFSCME Council 3’s collective bargaining and growth strategies director.

Plus, according to an unfair labor complaint AFSCME Local 1072 filed in July with the Maryland State Higher Education Labor Relations Board, University of Maryland administrators have repeatedly rejected the union’s requests for the administration to bargain with members to create such a policy.

 Katzenberg said the school has also refused to provide the union with data on how many staff members have tested positive for COVID-19 and has not kept the union attune to the locations of outbreaks on the campus. And, Katzenberg said, the union has not been involved in any campus plan for the health and safety of the system’s workers.