USM Bargaining Story: Sheila Curtis

"The best part about my job is being able to work with UMES students and encouraging them to overcome obstacles as they work towards obtaining their education. I love to make sure the department I support is running as efficiently as possible. I enjoy helping the students that are part of the women’s organization on campus that I advise receive volunteer hours and understand the importance of giving to the community they are a part of.

As part of our bargaining team, it’s been inspiring to see the camaraderie between our union sisters and brothers in various workplaces. It’s also empowering to know that the issues we are experiencing at UMES are also happening elsewhere and we’re not alone in our fight to make a variety of working conditions better.

The issues that I’m most passionate about addressing are around sick leave and telework policies. In 2021, my youngest daughter missed an entire school year because of COVID. She spent weeks in the ICU and over five months in three different hospitals as her lungs were being ravaged by COVID. HR told me that there was no leave bank that I could access to take the extended time I needed to care for her. In reference to my extended leave request, HR’s response simply stated that my daughter was in the hospital where medical staff could provide her care and that I did not need to be there. They also told me that the option for a coworker to donate their sick leave to me was no longer in place, even though at least 10 of my fellow coworkers had reached out to HR asking if they could specifically donate to me. That heartbreaking experience showed me how important it is for all of us to be able to freely give to and access a leave bank in order to take care of ourselves and our loved ones.

During this time, UMES and my then department manager also refused to work with me to figure out a telework option. My telework was denied because I was deemed an essential worker, but nowhere on my timesheet reflected that. They were telling me that ‘UMES is a residential campus, so telework is not an option for me’, despite many of my coworkers within the department and across campus who used telework often and without concerns during and after the pandemic.

A friend told me I should quit if I’m being treated unfairly, but I told them I can’t fight if I leave or run. All of this has made me want to stay and help fight even more because I know if they’re doing this to me, they’re doing this to someone else who may not know how else to fight them. It’s time to stop the bullies from bullying. It’s going to take more than just one voice to make a difference in what we’re fighting for, but through this process, I’m proud to know that with AFSCME, we’re standing together to stop the USM and our individual campuses from being bullies."