Georgia college workers demand protections amid coronavirus outbreak

A group of college graduate students called the United Campus Workers of Georgia held a rally at Liberty Square across from the the state Capitol on Feb. 5, 2020 to demand higher wages and other benefits from the University System of Georgia. They are now demanding changes they say are needed to protect the health of workers amid the coronavirus pandemic.

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A group of college graduate students called the United Campus Workers of Georgia held a rally at Liberty Square across from the the state Capitol on Feb. 5, 2020 to demand higher wages and other benefits from the University System of Georgia. They are now demanding changes they say are needed to protect the health of workers amid the coronavirus pandemic.

An organization representing the interests of workers at Georgia’s public colleges and universities says the system needs to enact several measures to improve their working conditions and other pay benefits, particularly for part-time employees, amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The demands include ensuring no employee loses earned sick or paid leave as a result of shutdown, self-quarantine, or exposure to COVID-19; telework options for any employees who are able to do so; closing parts of campuses not required for resident students to eliminate exposure risks and providing personal protective equipment (PPE) and cleaning supplies for all employees who cannot work remotely until campuses are shut down.

“We are in a real crisis due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” United Campus Workers of Georgia said in a statement Friday. “But this crisis doesn’t have to threaten the lives and livelihoods of the employees of the University System of Georgia, not if the Board of Regents takes appropriate action. The choices they make now can make a difference.”

University System officials declined comment Friday.

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The United Campus Workers of Georgia concerns mirror demands by workers in other parts of the country, particularly for graduate students working part-time on college campuses. United Campus Workers of Georgia estimates there are about 8,500 part-time employees and 57,000 graduate students in the University System.

The University System has made some changes concerning worker safety and health since the pandemic escalated in Georgia this month. It is providing free virtual COVID-19 screenings for all employees, according to its website. Several system colleges and universities have said they are willing to accommodate employees apprehensive about coming to work.

Some universities, such as the University of Georgia, are paying employees for hours not worked up to the equivalent of their regularly scheduled hours per week when there is not work for those employees. UGA announced the policy Wednesday.

Georgia’s public colleges and universities have closed campuses for students and moved classes online for the remainder of the semester.