For Immediate Release
June 1, 2020
CLICK HERE to read “United University Professions—Guidelines for Reopening: Assuring a Safe Working Environment During the COVID-19 Pandemic
United University Professions, the union representing 37,000 employees at SUNY state-operated campuses and public teaching hospitals across New York state, supports reopening SUNY campuses in the fall—but only with strict measures in place to protect students, staff and visitors.
UUP President Frederick E. Kowal, Ph.D., said these “core issues” include:
- mandatory and recurring COVID-19 testing for all;
- enacting methods for contact tracing and isolation;
- stringent social distancing requirements; and
- a directive for students and employees to wear face coverings when in direct contact with others.
UUP’s stipulations are part of a six-page report, “United University Professions—Guidelines for Reopening: Assuring a Safe Working Environment During the COVID-19 Pandemic,” released by the union today.
“Our students want to return to campus, and we want to welcome them back,” said Kowal. “But this can only be accomplished under conditions that minimize the spread of the coronavirus and include steps to trace and isolate anyone contracting the virus.
“Without these protections in place, I do not believe our students and our members would be safe learning and teaching on our campuses,” said Kowal. “The safety of our campus communities is paramount, and that level of safety would not be met without these measures in place.”
Additional state funding is needed to allow campuses to enact these precautions and to provide safe learning conditions for students and staff.
“Education on our campuses can only continue if the state provides the necessary aid for campuses to test, trace and disinfect; and provide masks and other personal protective equipment to students and our members,” Kowal said. “Only with the state’s help can we protect our members, our families, our students and our communities.”
Gov. Cuomo announced March 11 that SUNY campuses would close March 19, with classes continuing remotely. UUP represents hundreds of job titles at SUNY, ranging from sheepherders and glassblowers to dormitory and food-services directors.
Test, trace, isolate
The union contends it is crucial that UUP and SUNY work together on a plan to ensure a safe return to campus come fall. To accomplish that, students and staff should receive diagnostic testing before classes begin, and all visitors should be screened before being allowed on campus.
Employees testing positive for COVID-19 would leave work or stay home until they test negative for the virus. Students with the virus would be quarantined in housing away from students and residence halls.
SUNY and UUP should develop a plan to administer recurring COVID-19 tests to staff and students and to broaden the testing if there’s an infection spike on campus. Rapid-result testing should be available on campus for anyone who requests it.
“The key to reducing the possibility of recurring outbreaks is widespread testing, tracing those in contact with someone who has contracted the virus, and isolating anyone who comes down with it,” Kowal said.
A safe distance
To support its social distancing mandate, UUP believes a March telecommuting agreement between SUNY and UUP allowing staff to teach classes remotely should extend through Dec. 31. The agreement, which UUP said would reduce employee density, expires July 18.
Employees who opt to work remotely should be allowed to; workers who are high risk, who live with high-risk family members, or who face COVID-19-related child care issues must be given alternate assignments.
Common areas in buildings and dorms should be closed, if possible; residence halls should be off-limits to all but students and staff living and working there; and limits must be placed on the number of people at one time in libraries, cafeterias, gyms and other common areas.
Under UUP’s plan, the campus would provide students and staff with cloth or surgical face masks, which would be worn in classes and common campus areas. Gloves should be provided to employees working with “high-touch surfaces,” and hand sanitizer and sanitizing wipes should be readily accessible.
A cleaning schedule to disinfect and sanitize high-traffic areas like restrooms, door handles, stair rails, elevator buttons and vending machines must be in place, as well as criteria to close and disinfect areas where people with COVID-19 have been.
Campus risk assessments should be jointly conducted by campus administrators and union leaders before any reopening plan is finalized, and draft campus reopening plans should be shared with UUP representatives for input.
UUP’s plan also extends to the nearly 13,000 members it represents at SUNY’s public teaching hospitals in Brooklyn, Stony Brook and Syracuse.
Employees at SUNY’s hospitals and nursing homes must be given a 90-day supply of personal protective equipment, which includes N95 respirator masks, gowns, face shields and other gear.
The union requests that all patients set for elective surgeries be tested for COVID-19 within 24 hours prior to being admitted. Also, patient visitation restrictions currently in place must be maintained and enforced.