UMFA's Advocacy Regarding the UM COVID Response: Update
Oct. 20, 2021
Recently, UM administration denied all of UMFA’s detailed requests, issued in Spring 2021, for COVID-19 pandemic related relief, supports, and protections for you. In support of these requests, many of you clearly identified your needs and challenges in open letters to UM administration. According to administration, the hardships of the pandemic were short-lived and have already been sufficiently and comprehensively addressed, for example, by the one-year extension to tenure and promotion timelines that was granted near the outset of the pandemic.
Downplaying the impact of the pandemic has regrettably occurred in other recent interactions with UM administration. Over the past six weeks, a group of UMFA representatives have met on five occasions with senior UM administration to discuss the administration's current COVID-19 pandemic response and the 100% re-opening plan they have in place for January 2022.
What We’ve Been Advocating
Your UMFA representatives have repeatedly conveyed the numerous and growing concerns you are bringing to our attention, including the following:
- The absence of accommodations for those whose needs and concerns fall outside the scope of human-rights protected characteristics. These include caregivers; those who may have immunocompromised, unvaccinated, or vulnerable individuals in their immediate circles; those who may be immunocompromised or vulnerable themselves; those who are required to self-isolate; and/or those who have received no information verifying the safety of their workplaces (e.g., percentages of students who are vaccinated, evidence of upgrades and measures to ensure building safety such as increased air exchanges, etc.).
- A lack of information about the UM’s Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning (HVAC) systems in campus buildings and whether these meet standards to prevent the transmission of COVID-19, and not simply minimum workplace standards that apply outside the context of a pandemic caused by an airborne virus whose Delta variant is even more easily transmitted.
- The absence of real-time procedures to verify the vaccination status of people on the Fort Garry Campus.
- The absence of real-time procedures to verify a negative COVID-19 test result of those yet-unvaccinated people on the FGC
- A lack of criteria for pivoting to online instruction as necessary and appropriate in Winter 2022 term.
- The absence of a clear plan to deal with students and employees who opt not to be vaccinated. Of particular concern is administration’s decision not to verify the vaccine status of visitors to campus unless those visitors are seeking admission to a particular event.
We have asked for concrete remedies to these, among other concerns. Thus far, we have been successful only in securing a meeting with representatives from Physical Plant in which it was verified that very few COVID-19-specific measures have been implemented regarding campus HVAC systems. We have learned that among the very limited COVID-19-specific steps taken, these largely depended on summer weather and the ability to maximize fresh air intake, which is now severely reduced with the onset of colder weather.
Questions About Air Quality, L.A.S.H. Committees
Representatives from Physical Plant also described that air quality (not air exchange) tests are being conducted only in selected older buildings, which means no information is available for many of the spaces in which you work. We have insisted that Local Area Safety and Health (LASH) committees should be meeting and trained on COVID-19-specific issues, and that the University-wide Safety and Health Committee (called OSHAC) should do the same, since these groups have not been meeting over the course of the pandemic. UMFA Representatives will be meeting with the University’s Environment Health and Safety Office next week to press this issue further.
UMFA recognizes the urgency of the situation and will continue to advocate for your safety, health, and well-being, and by extension, for a safe return to campus for all. In the meantime, please share your immediate concerns related to the UM’s COVID-19 response, and your concerns related to the current January 2022 plan with a re-opening target of 100% by participating in an UMFA-organized focus group.
Participate in an UMFA Focus Group!