September 2021 Advocate: Health & Safety Committees


College Health & Safety Committees play central role in plans for return to safe in-person work

During the spring and summer, AFT appointed representatives to each of our campus health and safety committees, prompted by the news that the District’s Emergency Operations Center (EOC) – where faculty were not represented – would be disbanded. With that decision, the District agreed that each campus health and safety committee would begin to play a vital role in implementing the Covid recovery and safety plans on each campus, and also serve as a channel to communicate updates, listen and provide feedback from constituents to the District.

Pandemics don’t stop during summer

In the Spring, AFT also recognized that the Skyline and Cañada safety committees had ceased to convene during the pandemic, leaving faculty without any real means of participating in the important work of making our campuses safe for return. (This was not the case at the College of San Mateo, where regular meetings continued). At the District Board of Trustees’ May and June meetings, AFT and other union leaders and members also made strong arguments for why SMCCD employees must be proactively invited to the table for this work.

One result was that campus administrators were asked to resume health and safety meetings in May, which they did, only to stop again during summer — despite faculty’s request to meet. AFT again asked and received support from Chancellor Claire regarding the need for this participatory governance work to continue. Zoom meetings then resumed for the summer, drawing more than 100 employees to each meeting. At these meetings, employees were able to voice questions and concerns. AFT was supported by the majority of attendees in asking that the District mandate universal indoor masking — on the grounds of both equity and science — a proposal that was approved by the District Health & Safety Committee, and eventually the Board of Trustees, in late July.

Faculty demand transparency and accountability

On July 1, a District “Town Hall” zoom meeting where more than 100 employees in attendance expected to ask questions and receive answers to health and safety questions turned out to be not as advertised. Employees could neither speak out nor use the chat but only pose questions using a Q&A function that  prevented meeting participants from seeing each others’ questions. Despite many requests for these answers by faculty during summer health and safety meetings, disappointingly, the promised answers never materialized.

In this vein, throughout the summer AFT leaders and Contract Action Team (CAT) members, AFT’s committee reps and others continued to advocate for campus health and safety committees to operate with improved communications and transparency. Chairs were asked to update their committee websites with minutes and agendas, to invite the entire campus to meetings, to post agendas ahead of time, set aside sufficient meeting time for the approval of agendas and minutes, and perhaps most importantly, to allocate sufficient time for employee feedback and input by extending meeting times to 90 minutes. After many requests by AFT for information about an elusive District Safety Committee that was to hear feedback from each campus committee, the District created a committee website including meeting schedules, a membership roster, and a notice, “Meetings are open to the SMCCCD community.” The next District meeting is scheduled for October 8.

Our work is NOT done: What can faculty do?

Many faculty continue to have outstanding questions and concerns about our present return to campus. This fall, each health and safety committee has been asked to re-examine its charge, giving faculty a new way to participate in improving committee operations and outcomes. Recently, faculty have demanded improved processes around meeting operations and accountability. AFT will continue the pressure in the hopes these will come to fruition soon.

Do you have questions relating to your health and safety around returning to work face-to-face?

Participatory governance is our right! What can faculty do?

  • Attend your upcoming campus Health & Safety Committee meetings
  • Contact your AFT Safety Committee reps with your concerns:
    • Cañada College: Michael Hoffman, Lorraine Barrales-Ramirez
    • College of San Mateo: David Lau, Jesenia Diaz
    • Skyline College: Lori Slicton, Jessica Silver-Sharp
  • Ask about joining your campus safety committee representing your division.
  • Tell your campus safety committee chair(s) to give sufficient time for our input.
  • Attend Board of Trustees meetings to learn about the latest policies. Consider speaking out with your colleagues during the public comments.
  • Attend a Contract Action Team (CAT) meeting. Next meeting is by zoom on Tuesday, September 7, 4:00-5:15pm

Links to Important Resources