Facilities stressed out amid COVID-19 pandemic

The facilities department is stretched thin during a hiring freeze

Emily DiSalvo, Arts and Life Editor

Facilities workers at Quinnipiac University perform the necessary cleaning and maintenance tasks to keep the community safe while facing staff shortages and the fear of losing their jobs if the university closes.

According to John Morgan, associate vice president for public relations, administration at Quinnipiac implemented a hiring freeze for the 2020-21 academic year for all faculty and staff. This means that those that retired, left or no longer work at Quinnipiac facilities for any reason were not replaced.

A source in facilities, who chose to remain anonymous for job security reasons, said the hiring freeze is forcing workers to step up and perform tasks outside of their assignments.

“Everyone is trying to become as irreplaceable as possible,” the source said. “People are doing more than just their day-to-day jobs. They are working more out of their classification.”

A second anonymous source in facilities described the “additional work” created by the hiring freeze.

Facilities managers were trained in how to properly clean during a pandemic. (Morgan Tencza)

“The burden of their job falls on everybody else to pitch in which then makes it more difficult,” the second source said. “In the past, we have been able to cover when other people are out, but now with the extra sanitizing we have to do in the morning, it is pretty difficult to do when you are short staffed.”

The facilities team has always been committed to keeping campus clean, but Morgan said the expectations are greater this year.

“Quinnipiac’s facilities team is performing regular intense cleaning of all public spaces to disinfect classrooms, common areas, workspaces and dining areas to minimize transmission,” Morgan said.

Morgan would not confirm whether the facilities department is short staffed this year due to the hiring freeze.

Facilities managers went through training through the Global Biorisk Advisory Council so that they can become “Microbial Warrior” certified, according to Morgan.

“They brought back to us what they got from (the training),” the second source said.

While both sources said that they feel as safe on the job as they would in the grocery store or any other location, the job still isn’t without daily concerns. The first source said facilities workers have “daily conversations” about what will happen to their jobs if the university closes due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

“We play out different scenarios as to what could happen based on the timing for a potential closure,” the first source said.

Nora Madjar, associate professor of management at the University of Connecticut (UConn) and an expert on workplace negotiations, said that the situation is an opportunity for a discussion between the facilities union and Quinnipiac administration.

“The union should have some power to negotiate with QU,” Madjar said. “Having said that, I see it really as an opportunity for the union to negotiate and not to just pressure QU from a position of power.”

Universities across the country that have already closed due to COVID-19 are dealing with the same quandary. The University of Texas at Austin recently closed its doors, but administration there has not yet laid off any staff like facilities workers, according to The Chronicle of Higher Education.

“At this time, we are not aware of any planned employee layoffs,” said Andy Brantley, president and chief executive of the College and University Professional Association for Human Resources at University of Texas at Austin, in a written statement. “In fact, we are hearing stories from across the country that emphasize how our higher-education leaders are working to continue services, create teleworking plans, and expand leave options to help employees bridge any gaps that temporary COVID-19 closures will create.”

Morgan said he was unwilling to speculate about the job security of these employees if the university was to close.

This fear of a potential layoff isn’t the first time COVID-19 has cut into the Quinnipiac facilities workers’ potential livelihood. Between April and June all faculty and staff took a 3-5% cut in their salary because of the financial hardship, according to Morgan.

The facilities union negotiated a 6.25% cut, the equivalent of four furloughed days.

“We altered the situation on behalf of the university and the hardship,” the first source said. “We chose to take four days of furlough. We didn’t get paid for those days. We also didn’t show up.”

During this time, most Quinnipiac employees and all of its students were at home. Meanwhile, facilities workers, like the two sources mentioned here, were at the school cleaning and helping to pack up students’ belongings that were left in residence halls.

“My wife also had her hours cut … I had been cut pay and was still working the same hours … but we made it through,” the second source said.

These facilities workers encourage all students to take the virus seriously, for everyone’s sake.

“Aside from the potential of getting sick, if enough people get sick they might close the school,” the first source said. “They may be able to continue their education online from home or wherever, but I cannot perform my job from online or at home. I would be unemployed.”