In recent years CUNY has repeatedly been faced with mass emergencies that have required contingency plans, from a terrorist attack to H1N1 flu to a hurricane. Yet CUNY management has developed no contingency plan for a pandemic. CUNY management also declined the PSC’s request to be a partner in developing a plan for the current emergency. The result has been policies in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic that are contradictory and fail to protect CUNY students, staff, and the public at large.
Although the failure to develop adequate contingency plans stretches back many years and is compounded by systematic underfunding of the University, Chancellor Matos Rodríguez’s message sent at 6:55 p.m. today, March 16, continues the pattern.
Everyone in the CUNY community understands how demanding the current crisis is and how rapidly conditions are changing. The PSC also acknowledges that a transition to distance working requires planning and preparation. But a plan for the transition should have been in place before now. Had a plan been in place, employees would not be asked to travel to campus and work together when the epidemic is already under way. The transition must be complete by Thursday, March 19.
Further, the designation of “essential staff” must be strictly limited to staff whose work is required on campus or other CUNY worksite in order to maintain emergency operations. Otherwise, the term is meaningless.
CUNY’s failure to plan and the ongoing failure to fund the University must not be remedied by requiring students and employees to put their health and the health of the community at risk. At this point in the pandemic, CUNY must find a way to make the transition to remote work without requiring employees to come into campus or other CUNY worksites.
The PSC calls on CUNY to:
- Find a way to transition to remote operation with the fewest possible essential employees on campus.
- Strictly limit the designation of essential employees to those required for emergency operations and make the designation University-wide, not on a campus-by-campus basis.
- Make it clear that anyone in a high-risk category for COVID-19 or anyone who shares a household with a person in a high-risk category will be released from any obligation to travel to campus, even when such individual is an essential employee.
- Heed the call of the Chair of the Council of Chief Librarians and the Interim University Dean for Library Services to close all CUNY libraries immediately.
- Close all college laboratories.
- Specify why remote work is not possible when CUNY determines that an employee performs an essential function for emergency operations that cannot be performed remotely.
- With the exception of employees referred to #6 above, permit all employees to work remotely, starting tomorrow, March 17.
The members of the PSC are fully committed to the mission of CUNY and to its students. We are prepared to work hard to complete the transition to working remotely by March 19. But it is the responsibility of University management to plan for that transition in a way that keeps employees safe. The time has come for CUNY to radically reduce the number of people required to report to campus and to make paramount the safety of the University community and the city.
Therefore the PSC advises the faculty and staff we represent:
- If you have been asked to report to a CUNY worksite tomorrow and you feel unwell for any reason, use your sick days and stay home.
- If you are in a higher-risk group for contracting COVID-19 or if you live with someone at higher risk, do not go in to work even if you have been designated “essential staff.” Instead, contact your supervisor and HR Office. Report that you are prepared to work remotely and explain why. Begin working remotely, to the best of your ability.
- If you have been asked to report to work in a CUNY location where a confirmed case of COVID-19 has been identified and you believe that the workplace has not been adequately decontaminated, refuse to enter the affected building(s) and inform your supervisor that you are prepared to work remotely but that you will not enter the building until you are provided with evidence that it has been effectively decontaminated.
- If you are not in a higher-risk group and you go in to work, even for a very limited time, do not meet in any group larger than ten, and maintain six feet of distance between yourself and any other person on campus and as you travel to campus.
- If, for any reason, you encounter difficulties with your work situation tomorrow, contact the PSC at firstname.lastname@example.org.