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Housekeeping hours shift sparks student petition

Duke's housekeeping staff now will work weekends, a change housekeepers say has interfered with their personal lives. 

Duke’s housekeeping staff have shifted to a new work schedule that alternates the workers’ two off days between weekends and Thursdays and Fridays. Every other week, Duke’s housekeeping staff will work on weekends, meaning staff members are frequently working seven days in a row—Saturday to Friday. 

“They’re making it real difficult for us," said George Johnson, a utility worker in housing operations. "They’re snatching us away from our families seven days a week, and that’s a tough button to push."

Senior Grace Mok organized a student petition to return housekeeping staff to their previous Monday-Friday schedule. She said that she is doubtful that the schedule change was due to student demands for cleaner dorms over the weekend. 

“The overwhelming majority of students I’ve talked to don’t really care that the bathrooms get a little dirty on Sundays,” Mok said. “And the ones who do have said that it shouldn’t be at the expense of current schedules. They should just hire someone new.”

Leslye Kornegay, director of university environmental services, wrote in an email that changes in housekeeping services are necessary to address operational needs in facilities that are open seven days a week, such as residence halls, libraries and athletic facilities.

"Duke takes pride in maintaining a clean, sanitary and safe environment in our facilities for the campus community and visitors," Kornegay wrote. "These changes are made after careful consideration for how to best meet the operational needs of the university while balancing our staffing and housekeeping resources."

She added that changes are reviewed with local union representatives for the unit, and are implemented in accordance with the collective bargaining agreement. The changes result in no additional hours for the staff, she wrote.

“We were told that the students were complaining about the bathroom on Sundays, and so they got seven day coverage," Johnson explained. "But what they did and how they did it—they forced us. We had no say, we had no communication."

Though questions remain over the specifics and extent of the student demands, housekeepers have already begun to feel the impact of the schedule change. 

Loretta Liles, a housekeeper in Keohane Quad, has had her weekends off for three years, when she would take her children to sports practices and church ministries. Now, because Liles works weekends again, she has struggled to find time to do either.

“It’s really really impacted me too as a Christian person in not being able to go to church on a regular basis,” Liles said.

Liles is not alone in her frustration. 

“My wife had a stroke a year ago, and she’s not at that point where she can fully do for herself," said Darrell Thorpe, another member of the housekeeping staff. "And by me working on the weekends, it’s hard for me to come here and be here at work and still get home and take care of her.”

Thorpe said he previously had his wife cared for during the weekdays, but on the weekends it was up to him.

Charles Gooch, president of Local 77, the union representing the housekeeping employees, argued that any schedule changes should only affect new hires, not those who have already shaped their lives to their work schedules. 

“It should’ve been grandfathered in,” he said. 

Housekeeper Juaneza Gooch, who worked a part-time job making tires on the weekend, said the schedule change forced her to quit that job.

“I’m going to be making less money because I’m not going to have my part time job anymore,” Gooch said. “I was really upset.”

After noting the student body's unawareness of the shift in hours, Mok created a student petition entitled, “STAND WITH DUKE HOUSEKEEPING.” It calls upon six of Duke’s administrators to reverse the housekeeping hours change. 

“I think we’re stakeholders because everything here at this university supposedly is for the students,” Mok said.

Mok hoped that “more outrage or attention or signatures” could result in a reversal of the decision, but she also noted that Duke’s administration often does not react to student protests.

Mok added that the student petition has been well-received by the housekeepers, which, according to Lettica Wolfe, a housekeeper, is an indication of their hopes for student activism.

“Our last option is [the students]," Wolfe said. "We need someone to hear us and to understand where we’re coming from."

However, speaking up is a risky bet. Some housekeepers are worried that department supervisors may “bear down” on them because they spoke out.

“A lot of employees are scared of retaliation,” said Shawn Easterling, a housekeeper in housing operations. 


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