In light of the district’s decision last week to move ahead with face-to-face work, we know that many faculty are uncertain about their and their students’ health and safety as classes begin tomorrow.
YOUR RIGHTS IF YOU DEVELOP COVID SYMPTOMS OR TEST POSITIVE:
AFT wants to first remind all faculty that our MOU for Spring 2022 guarantees you certain rights if you develop COVID symptoms or test positive for COVID. If either of these happens to you, District policy specifies that you SHOULD NOT COME TO CAMPUS. Instead, if you must quarantine due to Covid or care for a family member who needs to quarantine or isolate due to Covid, the MOU guarantees you the following options: you may shift your work to a synchronous online modality, or work with your dean to have a colleague sub for you. These options apply for as long as you are unable to get a confirmed negative test result (Spring 2022 MOU, Article 3B).
Health and Safety Demands
Our faculty union held an emergency meeting of all officers and campus reps last Thursday to draw up a list of public health and safety demands based on members’ input. We presented this list to the Chancellor and the three college Presidents on Friday, January 14th, and we shared it with the Board of Trustees:
- Universal on-demand testing for everyone who asks to be tested
- Basic campus safety equipment, including N95 masks or the equivalent for everyone—faculty, staff and students—and air purifiers for all employees who request them
- The option to work remotely for all District employees until San Mateo County is out of the red (“high”) COVID transmission tier
(See our full demand letter here)
On Saturday, 1/15, AFT received an unsatisfactory response from Chancellor Claire to our safety demands. Without the important protections AFT outlined, the District is putting our campus communities at risk.
Summary of the main points Chancellor Claire made in his response to AFT’s demand letter:
(We are not making his full response publicly available without his agreement.) Following this summary, please see our reactions to the Chancellor’s points.
- Citing the falling level of virus in wastewater samples in our county, Chancellor Claire stated that if trends hold as they have in other areas that have experienced earlier surges, then this spike in COVID transmissions should subside in the coming weeks.
- Testing: Chancellor Claire said that the District began the process of sourcing tests early last week and have ordered 15,000 tests. The first delivery is expected within the next two weeks. For the testing capacity that the District currently has, they are prioritizing those faculty, staff and students who are exempt from the vaccination requirement (due to medical or religious reasons) and are therefore required to be tested weekly. General PCR testing remains available at numerous community testing centers.
- Safety Equipment: Chancellor Claire’s response noted that N95 masks are available to employees. To make it as easy as possible to obtain an N95 mask, the District has now distributed N95 masks to each division office and also made them available at campus public safety offices for any employee who would like one. Request forms are no longer required. KN-95 masks will be available for free for students in each campus bookstore and this has been communicated to students.
- Ventilation/Filtration: Chancellor Claire stated that the District has conducted assessments of all buildings and has shared that assessment. The MOU for the 2022 spring semester states: “Faculty members concerned about the safety of their workspace may request an inspection, which will be provided. Faculty who work in spaces where ventilation and air circulation are found to be non-compliant with CalOSHA will be provided air purifiers with HEPA filters[…]” The Chancellor says both faculty and the District must abide by the terms of the MOU.
- Remote Work: Chancellor Claire indicated that allowing faculty who are scheduled to work in-person to switch to remote work (no matter what they may individually determine about their and their students’ safety) would go against the direction of the Board. The Chancellor also said he assumes that students with genuine concerns about their health or the health of members in their household made a choice to remain online at the time of their enrollment.
Summary of AFT’s reactions to the Chancellor’s points:
AFT 1493‘s Executive Committee felt the Chancellor’s response to our demands was unacceptable for numerous reasons which are briefly summarized below. We hope to hear additional faculty viewpoints at our Virtual Meeting on Next Steps to Safe Campuses, on Tuesday, 4:30-5:30 pm. at this Zoom link: https://us02web.zoom.us/j/81616622346
- We were happy to hear that the District has now distributed N95 masks to each division office,that request forms are no longer required for N95s and that KN-95 masks will be available for free to students in each campus bookstore. We strongly encourage all faculty to wear N95 masks and to ask all their students to wear KN-95 or N95 masks. We hope the supplies in District offices and bookstores remain available and we urge the District to make KN-95s available at more locations around campuses so that they are more readily accessible to students. We request that faculty please inform your deans and AFT immediately if masks become unavailable or difficult to access for staff or for students.
- Chancellor Claire’s acknowledgement that the Omicron variant is currently peaking in our county strengthens the argument for allowing faculty to determine if it is safest for their class or office situation to work remotely for a few weeks until the surge subsides. This point was the comment made most often by faculty in AFT 1493’s faculty Covid survey and is supported by numerous recent statements from public health experts:
- An article in yesterday’s NY Times talks about other colleges that are taking our District’s position that Covid is “endemic” and opening in-person, but it states “public health experts are cautioning that campus officials should not move too quickly. ‘You’ll hear that people are tired of the restrictions and the regulations, and it is concerning to me,’ said Gerri Smith Taylor, co-chair of the Covid-19 task force for the American College Health Association.” The article also explains that U.C. Davis Chancellor Gary S. May faced a strong negative reaction after a statement in which he characterized the Omicron variant as “milder” and suggested a shift to “living with Covid-19 at an endemic level.” Classes were expected to resume in person on Jan. 10., but after a petition signed by 7,500 people, referencing Dr. May’s use of the term “endemic,” accused the university of “not prioritizing the immuno-compromised, the disabled, unvaccinated people, children, those who live with people from any of these groups, or the general health of the public,” most in-person classes have been delayed until Jan. 31.
- From an SF Chronicle article on Bay Area sewage samples: “We’re still on the ascent portion of the curve right now,” said UC Berkeley infectious disease expert Dr. John Swartzberg.
- From today’s SF Chronicle: “The omicron surge has yet to peak in the U.S., and ‘the next few weeks will be tough,’ U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy said Sunday.”
- Testing: The district had previously promised that testing would be available to everyone – any faculty, staff or student –whenever they requested it but, although the Omicron surge began in December, they just began the process of sourcing tests early last week. If the first shipment of test kits may take up to two weeks to arrive, that’s another reason to allow remote work until tests are available. Other districts, such as Mission/West Valley, have been able to provide free daily PCR testing for students and staff. Despite the Chancellor’s assurance that general PCR testing remains available at numerous community testing centers, we were unable to find any availability for this week on multiple attempts.
- Many students registered for in-person classes in November when there was no Omicron or holiday effect on Covid cases. Many individuals who were comfortable with Covid conditions previously have become much more reluctant to attend class or work in person during the Omicron surge. Many faculty have heard this from their students.
- The Board made their decision this past week about maintaining in-person work at the beginning of the semester based on incomplete information. For example, they were told other neighboring districts were starting in person, but they were not informed that:
Please join us for a virtual meeting on Next Steps to Safe SMCCCD campuses, Tuesday, January 18, 4:30-5:30 p.m. where we’ll plan our next steps for ensuring everyone in our community stays safe during this omicron surge. We’ll meet at https://us02web.zoom.us/j/81616622346
The AFT 1493 Executive Committee