Students, workers protest budget-cutting move at UNC

Staff writerApril 7, 2011 

Maintenance workers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill were joined by UNC juniors Lizzie Kim, center left, and Sarah Rhodes, center right, and other UNC students Thursday, April 7, 2011, as they took leave from their jobs and spent the day on the steps of South Building. Workers called for the Sit Out because Facilities services announced the elimination of flexible scheduling for maintenance workers.

JOHN ROTTET - JROTTET@NEWSOBSERVER.COM — JOHN ROTTET - jrottet@newsobserver.com

— Dozens of students stood in solidarity with several UNC-Chapel Hill building maintenance workers who skipped work Thursday to protest a schedule change that will force them to work five, rather than four days a week.

About 70 construction workers opted to work four 10-hour shifts each week when given the choice in 2008. University administrators now say they need all 150 tradesmen and women to work five 8-hour shifts.

In a written statement, university officials said the loss of 31 positions over the last couple of years has made it too difficult to cover all the tasks that need doing.

“The dual work schedules result in inefficiencies, such as too few employees with the range of skills required to meet ongoing maintenance requirements,” the statement reads.

Brick mason Chuck Grant, a vocal opponent of the change, said four-day workweeks are more efficient because they eliminate one day of travel, set-up and clean-up on job sites. He cited a Brigham Young University study suggesting four-day weeks increase job satisfaction and productivity.

Chuck Brink, an electrician who sits on the campus Employee Forum, said an extra day of commuting will cost employees in fuel and maintenance expenses.

“That’s going to effectively be a pay cut,” he said.

Brink said inflation and static salaries mean workers’ incomes are actually going down, while their workload goes up with every new construction project.

“We haven’t hired anybody in forever, and we keep getting more square footage to take care of,” he said.

Administrators say the Chapel Hill campus has a $645 million deferred maintenance backlog, and five-day weeks will help reduce that. They say the Facilities Services department has already cut $7.5 million from its budget since 2008.

“If the university absorbs additional state budget cuts, as expected, Building Services still will be required to reduce service levels and eliminate additional positions, according to the statement.

University spokeswoman Susan Houston said the new schedule won’t save the university any money in salaries but will make work more efficient.

“It’s more of a matter of making sure all the days are covered,” she said.

jesse.deconto@newsobserver.com or 919-812-5097

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