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Saturday, September 18, 2021
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Faculty and staff express COVID-19 safety concerns ahead of in-person fall semester

Remote work options, masks on all UW campuses and a vaccine mandate are a few of the United Faculty & Academic Staff demands for the fall semester. At a virtual open meeting addressing COVID-19 safety concerns Monday, graduate workers, staff and faculty discussed the demands and organized ways to see them through. 

The 60 meeting attendees entered breakout rooms to brainstorm ideas for media attention, political pressure, campus administration pressure, grassroots health and safety initiatives and new ideas in each room respectively. 

Of the demands, a vaccine mandate has the most legal hurdles, but UFAS cites other large public universities mandating COVID-19 vaccinations. University of Michigan, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, Indiana University, University of Colorado Boulder and Michigan State University are all requiring vaccinations for all students, faculty and staff.

“It's so obvious that this university is not ready for what's coming down the line,” TAA president John Walker said. “It's just so frustrating to not see a very proactive approach.”

Walker wishes the university had taken time to find a hybrid or virtual option that improved on last year, rather than jumping back into the classroom. Administration has had time since summer of 2020 to find a system that works for everyone, Walker said, “why was there not a team in place to say ‘what does the next year look like?’”

“(Administration) should have been asking those hard questions back then,” Walker said. “We should be way beyond this as far as infrastructure building and any kind of planning. That's what these administrators get paid to do.”

Safety risks have had financial implications for graduate workers, staff and faculty who felt they had to choose between risking their health and quitting their salaried job. Many graduate workers have to put their safety on the line despite being immunocompromised or having children under the age of 12 who are ineligible for the vaccine. 

While the university prepares to return to in-person instruction, staff believe that they are left with a difficult decision and a lot of risk either way. 

“At the end of the day, what we're talking about is safety,” Walker said. “Specifically with the reopening, it all comes down to the safety of workers, because it takes all of us to keep such a giant institution running.” 

To wrap up the virtual meeting, attendees came back together to share ideas and discuss next steps. The meeting was cosponsored by United Faculty & Academic Staff, TAA, American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees 171 and 2412 and the University Labor Council. 

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