Hello friends. We have been tested this year by several storms during an active hurricane season. Our nerves have been put on edge, and our anticipation of where the storms will hit has made us worry about our families, friends and neighbors. Even with all this worry, we have been drawn closer together. Dealing with disasters is one of the many things that we do very well together because we care about each other and all the folks in our state. We have storms, trials, and tests, but we come through them together because we care. The last few years have been tough on all state employees because of the lack of pay raises and seeing our benefits fade away. But there is hope for all of us for the future, and that hope is us: if we all work together we can make the positive changes we need to make happen in our state for all state employees and our citizens.
It is going to take a lot of hard work, and it’s up to us to join together and make it happen. We all need to take an active role in building for our future. The Employee Forum has been working very hard on these issues. We have already been working on getting support for pay raises this year, and there is a very active campaign to improve our health insurance, especially the cost of our dependent coverage. We also need to make sure that we get a living wage established in our state for everyone. But there are not enough Delegates in the Forum to get the job done, so we need your help. We need folks to volunteer to serve on University committees, and we need folks to take the time to run for office as Delegates and work with the Forum’s six committees. We have just finished our delegate elections for this year, but it is not too early for you to plan to run for a Forum delegate next year. Please take the time to find out who your Forum Delegates are in your area and let them know how you feel about the issues on campus. If you are interested in serving, please contact the Forum Office at 962-3779.
Finally, the Employee Forum, staff, students and the faculty are actively working on a food drive for the folks who have been hit hard by the hurricanes. We are also collecting for the Interfaith Council here in Chapel Hill. There will be recycle barrels for donations in various buildings, so please help. These are our families, friends, and neighbors who need our help. Thanks for all your hard work. Your friend, Tommy.
Pete Reinhardt, Director of the UNC-CH department of Environment, Health and Safety (EHS), spoke briefly at the Forum at the 9/1 Forum meeting and then answered questions from the Delegates.
Before opening the floor to questions, Reinhardt mentioned that EHS, along with Human Resources, plans to offer flu shots again this year. Plans were well underway to provide free vaccines on campus for employees. Since then, of course, problems with the national supply, as a result of problems with vaccines from one of the two suppliers, have made supplies much shorter and have prevented UNC from providing this service, certainly through no fault of EHS.
Reinhardt encouraged employees to have a look at the recently improved EHS website at http://ehs.unc.edu/. He made particular note of the “Staying Healthy” page (accessed by clicking a button on the left side of any of the EHS pages). This has info on a variety of current and recent topics and is intended to help employees stay healthy. Examples include info on meningitis, flu shots, whooping cough, getting around UNC safely, and help for quitting smoking.
There were questions on a variety of issues, including mold in buildings, exposure to second hand tobacco smoke in state vehicles and outside buildings, exposure to formaldehyde outside labs, problems with cleaning products, and dealing with work-related carpal tunnel problems.
With regard to mold, Reinhart said this was always a problem in North Carolina because of the humidity, but that EHS is really on top of these issues. When they receive a report, they investigate, prepare a report, and work with Facilities Services to correct the problem. If you see a problem, report it at 962-5507 or email them at firstname.lastname@example.org.
There was quite a bit of discussion of what to do about tobacco smoke in state vehicles and outside buildings, but since Rheinhart said this was not within the purview of his department, the discussion was largely moot. EHS provides info on resources for stopping smoking on their “Staying Healthy” page.
Reinhart said that if you suspect a problem with formaldehyde or any other chemical, you should report it to EHS. They can investigate, make measurements in the problem areas, prepare a lab safety plan, and make changes if needed.
While there have been problems reported in the past with housekeeping staff having nosebleeds and headaches after using certain cleaning products, Reinhart says these problems have been addressed by changing chemicals and informing staff on how to use them properly. There are material safety data sheets hung where the chemicals are used, and EHS provides training classes to be sure workers understand. Reinhart said that EHS responds aggressively to complaints about health situations. He said that he knows of no current problems, but that if a housekeeper tells him there is one, they will happy to investigate further; housekeepers have a difficulty job, and Reinhart wants them to be as safe as possible.
Regarding carpel tunnel syndrome, Reinhart said that if it is a workplace injury incurred while using your computer at work, you should see come to the Employee occupational health clinic (966-9119), which is on the first floor of the Ambulatory Care Center ACC) and one of the nurses or doctors there will talk with you. These are specialists who routinely look at work related injuries. For carpal tunnel problems, they may get the ergonomist involved, to minimize further injury.
Facilities Services Director Alty Meets with Forum
Jim Alty, the new Director of Facilities Services, spoke to the Forum on 10/6. He told the Delagates a bit about himself. That information is well covered in the October 20 Gazette, and it won’t be repeated here. Alty came across as a strong leader with a genuine interest in learning what his 1000 employees do, in hearing from their customers how well they are doing, and in making improvements. He spoke of his intention to involve employees in the decisions that affect them.
A sticky issue that Alty has had to deal with for starters is concerned with Facilities Services workers who are required to come in during adverse weather emergencies. Since the state rules in this area changed last year, changes were needed to Facilities Services policies. Alty wants the policies to be consistent within Facilities Services and fair to employees, while ensuring that the needed work gets done. When asked why the committed looking into the new policy consisted of supervisors only, Alty responded that he wanted the managers to work out a proposal, and then he could get input on their proposal. He also did not realize to start with that this was such an emotionally charged topic, but he is aware of that now.
Alty’s hands-on approach to learning the work of Facilities Services, as well as his inclusive decision-making style, bode well for employees and the rest of campus. The Forum appreciates his taking time to meet us.
On 9/27, Carolina began a laptop loan program, for UNC-CH employees who make less than $22,000 per year, working at a pay grade of 61 or lower, who need a computer for educational purposes. The loan program was initially recommended by the Chancellor’s Task Force for a Better Workplace, and it was funded by the Chancellor, using $25,000 that was to be his salary bonus. The program was given a full write-up in the Daily Tar Heel. As of 10/26, there were eight laptops on loan to staff, including two on loan to housekeepers. Katherine Caudell-Graves, vice chairwoman of the Employee Forum and initiator of the project, said that the staff borrowing the computers are getting some help with training from the Campus Y and that they are getting a lot of help from Bruce Egan of ITS and his staff.