UNC housekeepers and other workers rally outside of South Building on UNC's campus Credit: Courtesy of Dante Strobino

Demands initially articulated in September by UNC-Chapel Hill housekeepers are culminating in action during the university’s Board of Governors (BOG) meetings today. The statewide workers union, UE 150, which includes UNC-Chapel Hill’s union and those of its partner universities, has tightened its list from ten demands that it brought to the board in late January. 

UE 150 will stand for these demands represented by The Workers Union at UNC and advocates from adjacent movements at UNC-Charlotte and NC State who are joining forces during two separate demonstrations. 

The renewed demands statement released on February 9 focuses on two demands concerning UNC housekeepers and two demands aimed at graduate worker’s rights, an aspect of the demands list explicitly incorporated in the workers’ January address. The final demand calls upon the BOG to advocate to repeal the lynchpin law blocking workers rights in North Carolina: NC General Statute §95-98 that bans collective bargaining statewide. 

Housekeepers and advocates from across the state are doubling down on UNC System leadership in the hopes that this shorter set of demands will be met in full. 

In December, following demands for two principal changes—free parking and $20 per hour in pay—UNC housekeepers were granted a raise of 90 cents, bringing their pay to $16.18 per hour. 

“[This] did not even get [the housekeepers] halfway to what they’re asking for,” says Trey Anthony. 

This decision was delivered on December 14 in a memo from the vice chancellor for finance and operations, Nate Knuffman, stating that the university was granted a raise for eligible building and environmental services workers by the state’s human resources office. Building environmental supervisors had their maximum salaries raised to $65,760 whereas, building and environmental services technicians—the designation for UNC housekeepers—was raised to a maximum of $44,509. These increases are funded by Labor Market Adjustment Reserves (LMAR). The demand for free parking wasn’t addressed in the memo.

“Housekeepers are very angry that the fruits of their labor, the fruits of all of this organizing work, in terms of absolute dollars, went mostly to their supervisors and assistant directors,” says Trey Anthony, the leader of The Workers Union at UNC and a graduate student at the university.

UNC houskeeper Tracy Harter, one of the faces of the movement since September, said that this movement has grown greater than specific demands for which they continue to advocate.

“This movement is not just about free parking and pay increase,” Harter says., “We are wanting to fight in a different way, we are not settling for the status quo explanations any more or status quo tactics.” 

As the union persists, it has also grown. As many as 40 new dues-paying members have joined the steadfast set of housekeepers and graduate students since the first response by the university in December, Anthony says. 

One of the challenges Harter describes is the manner of communication between the university and the union. 

“Instead of talking, trying to double talk, politician talk, where we don’t understand, we want it clear,” Harter says. “We want it in writing so we can hold you accountable and in ways that you haven’t been challenged before.” 

Seeking to clarify content outlined in the December email from Knuffman, the union organized a meeting on February 14 with representatives from the UNC human resources department. Harter says that after asking questions and demanding slow, clear responses, she better understands the limitations of the university itself to raise pay. 

Cooperation and ultimate approval is required by state-level systems including the Board of Governors and the state office of Human of Resources, the entity responsible for approving new salary ranges and reference rates in December. But workers advocates say the board members aren’t even meeting standards of basic transparency for where they’re holding meetings.

Anthony said that the demonstrations were originally to be held at UNC’s Friday Center but that the board members appear to have changed the location of their meetings since January going forward.

“When we checked late last year, it said all future UNC System meetings would be at the Spangler Center, next to the Friday Center in Chapel Hill,” Anthony wrote in an email. “However, now they’ve moved all trace of it saying that.” 

Harter says she believes that the BOG’s decision to relocate their meeting today was strategic. 

“I believe that they knew about the rally, and they made the move so close to when the rally was going to occur so that they could try to basically not face us,” she says. “I think that what they did is a tactical effort on their part to try and derail us, to try and minimize a crowd.” 

But, she adds, it’s not because she thinks BOG members are scared—just that they’re indifferent.

“What they’re doing is showing their indifference, their disrespect, and their intent to not hear what we have to say,” she says. 

Anthony is more hopeful. 

“They’re in the defensive positions so that means we’re doing something right,” he says.

The union encourages students, community members, faculty, and staff to attend the demonstration this afternoon in support. 

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