Dear Chairman Hacker,
COVID-19 presents a monumental challenge to the health of our campuses and communities, particularly regarding our workplaces. North Dakota University System employees and students deserve assurances that campuses are held to the highest standards when it comes to our health and safety while on the job and in the classroom in order to continue providing the quality education we value. This pandemic is an immediate, new and little-understood workplace hazard for many of us, and puts our families at risk as well.
We, the below signed members of North Dakota United and our campus communities, respectfully ask you to adopt the following principles for the safe reopening of our campuses:
- Faculty and staff must have a say in decisions regarding opening campuses and pandemic planning at every level: building, campus, and system-wide.
- Decisions must be based on prioritizing worker and student safety, and guided by sound science.
- Strong, clear, and enforceable workplace health and safety standards must be in place.
- Workers must have stronger protections against retaliation to encourage the sharing of concerns and experiences.
- There must be a massive increase in adequate levels and types of personal protective equipment, sanitizing materials, and spacing requirements in the classroom and public gathering places.
- There must be a massive increase of rapid and reliable coronavirus testing.
- There must be a system of recording, reporting, and tracking worker and student infections.
- Campuses, in coordination with local and state public health departments, must trace the contacts of infected faculty, staff, and students and remove exposed workers from work with pay and without retaliation.
The members of North Dakota United ask the North Dakota University System to adopt this framework and set it as the minimum standard across all 11 institutions of higher education in an attempt to minimize the potential for more catastrophic outbreaks in our state. Additionally, we insist on frequent, consistent, transparent, and timely communication regarding the planning, procedures, and expectations of the safe reopening of our working and learning spaces.
North Dakota University System Working People’s Plan to Safely Reopen Campuses
- Faculty and staff must have a say in decisions regarding opening campuses and pandemic planning at every level: building, campus, and system-wide. Workers’ lives and health are on the line and must therefore have a role in deciding if it is safe to go to work, and how to conduct their work under current conditions. Faculty and staff have valuable knowledge and expertise that the NDUS system and campuses should include early in planning and throughout the process of implementing return plans and ongoing response planning.
- Decisions must be based on prioritizing worker and student safety, and guided by sound science. The primary criterion for deciding whether it is time to reopen campuses is safety, assessed on the basis of sound science. It is the job of campus leaders to incorporate guidelines informed by the Centers for Disease Control and occupational safety and health agencies. The NDUS system and campuses should eliminate or minimize exposure by redesigning workplaces, increasing the availability of sanitary facilities, telecommuting and other forms of social distancing.
- Strong, clear and enforceable workplace health and safety standards must be in place. Under the law, employers are responsible for ensuring worker safety. With guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and other necessary entities, campuses must develop and implement an infection control plan, with requirements for hazard assessment, engineering controls, provision of personal protective equipment, training, medical surveillance, and medical removal protections. Worksite inspections are necessary to enforce both existing standards and infectious disease standards to ensure faculty, staff, and student safety.
- Workers must have stronger protections against retaliation to encourage the sharing of concerns and experiences. There must be stronger protections for workers who speak up to their employer, public entities, social media or the press about unsafe working conditions; who bring a more protective level of equipment to work than their employer provides; or who test positive for the virus. Reasonable accommodations, including remote work options, must be provided for faculty or staff who self-determine that they or their families are health vulnerable or fear exposure to the virus because they have not been provided proper protections or training to do their job safely. Continuity of employment for more vulnerable workers with health conditions, who might not be able to return to work during the pandemic, must be guaranteed.
- There must be a massive increase in adequate levels and types of personal protective equipment, sanitizing materials, and spacing requirements in the classroom and public gathering places. A fresh and ample supply of necessary protective equipment must be available for all faculty, staff, and students. The masks provided must offer protection equivalent or superior to disposable N95 respirators. The use of personal protective equipment must be accompanied by training, fit testing, and disposal or sanitation protocols. Faculty should be able to mandate the use of personal protective equipment in the classroom. Campuses must employ the necessary number of custodial staff to frequently and effectively sanitize all academic and public spaces.
- There must be a massive increase of rapid and reliable coronavirus testing. Widespread coronavirus testing is critical in assessing the threat to public health before lifting preventive measures. Testing must be fast, free, and everywhere. Campuses should work with the state government to devise and implement a strategic plan to ensure access to testing for any faculty, staff, and students. Safeguards must be put in place before any use of antibody testing for purposes of public health benchmarks, and antibody testing must not be used to determine who can work.
- There must be a system of recording, reporting, and tracking worker and student infections. There must be a presumption that COVID-19 is a work-recordable illness for all members of the campus community. There must be real-time reporting of infections from campus to state and local health departments.
- Campuses, in coordination with local and state public health departments, must trace the contacts of infected faculty, staff, and students and remove exposed workers from work with pay and without retaliation. Those potentially exposed must be informed, appropriately removed from campus, and protected from the loss of income, benefits, employment, or learning outcomes. At the same time, there must be appropriate safeguards in place for the protection of worker and student data and privacy. As a matter of public health and safety, all workers—especially those on the front lines—must have a guarantee of 14 days of paid sick leave.