Op-ed: GW must treat their essential employees better

Matthew Allen is a sophomore and the advocacy chair of Roosevelt at GWU.

GW’s workers are the backbone of our University. It certainly wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say they are what allow our campus to run smoothly every single day. And, while these crucial staff members have often been underappreciated, their efforts during the COVID-19 pandemic are especially worthy of praise and recognition. Since the beginning of the pandemic, the University’s frontline staff have been consistently putting their lives at risk to ensure our education proceeds without interruption.

Despite their constant work, we at the Roosevelt Network have heard numerous accounts from workers that officials have refused to do nearly enough to protect their safety during this challenging time. Officials have provided sparse benefits and unresponsive whistleblower protocols. Considering how essential a role they play in all of our day-to-day lives, it is appalling that we have heard accounts of their poor treatment.

For one, GW is only providing the minimum 80 hours of paid pandemic leave required by the federal government, which amounts to exactly the two weeks that is strongly recommended by public health experts as a quarantine period for those who’ve contracted or been exposed to COVID-19. This means that if workers have to quarantine multiple times, they would have to do so without receiving a paycheck, which for many of them is simply not an option.

Workers we spoke to all expressed the concern that they lack an adequate mechanism to report violations and concerns about the University’s current safety policies. When we met with Dana Bradley, the chief people officer, and other members of the human resources department last semester, they seemed quite proud of the fact that their whistleblower reporting system – which allows workers to report safety violations – received zero submissions. But we find that incredibly concerning. Rather than serving as proof of an incredibly unlikely total of zero problems over the entire length of this pandemic, it actually highlights how the system itself needs improvement. If they’ve received no official complaints, given the workers we spoke to have myriad issues they want addressed, they need to ensure that workers know of and are not afraid to use their whistleblower reporting system.

Administrators are also claiming that workers who have exhausted their pandemic leave can receive workers’ compensation. But the frontline workers we spoke to were unaware of anyone who had been able to successfully utilize this benefit. Officials, while celebrating this policy as one of their successes, have not released specific data on how many workers have utilized this program despite our push for them to do so.

By refusing to do more to ensure the safety of our workers, administrators are essentially telling employees they need to choose between their financial health and their physical health, a choice no one should ever be forced to make. The Roosevelt Network and several co-signing organizations have recently released a letter to officials demanding that they increase pandemic paid pandemic leave to 180 hours and take other actions to protect GW workers. If you want to join us and support GW’s frontline workers, sign our petition and contact the administration. Our frontline workers are members of the GW community, just like any one of us. They deserve our support.

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