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Letter: Workers demand clear support through pandemic

letter to the editor

Dear President Price,

The workers of Duke University demand that Duke's administration take further measures and make further policy changes to ensure the safety and security of all Duke’s workers amid the novel coronavirus outbreak. From contract workers to faculty members, we take care of the University community on a daily basis. We are asking Duke’s leaders to do the right thing and take urgent action to protect its workers during this unprecedented public health and economic emergency.

Given the urgency of the situation, we are requesting a response before 5 p.m. on Thursday, April 2, 2020.

In light of the variety of circumstances facing workers during this difficult time, the University’s response has so far been inadequate. The University has not sought our input as it has made decisions affecting our health and livelihood, and many of us are struggling. Some of us have had our hours cut to zero and do not know how we will pay our bills or take care of our children. Those of us without health insurance are unable to access healthcare. Many of us do not know if we will have a job when Duke resumes normal operations. Some of us are facing a summer with no income due to the suspension of University activities, especially international graduate workers who are legally prohibited from working off-campus. The University’s commitment to placing staff in a paid work status, communicated in a March 18 email from Tallman Trask, leaves out teachers who are dependent on on-campus summer work. Its commitment, communicated in the same email, to paying contract workers assigned “full-time” work through May leaves out many of the dining and facilities workers who are not “full-time” but who nonetheless make sure the Duke community is fed and cared for.

The federal and state governments are considering measures to protect workers during this crisis. While important, these measures are not adequate, and Duke University has a responsibility to look after its own—the workers who feed our community, make sure we are safe, conduct our research, teach our undergraduates, and make the daily life of the University possible. In a March 13 email, you reminded us that Duke has “often been called upon to provide real leadership in the world... I know that we will answer it by demonstrating the abiding values and commitment to service that will carry us through to the even more extraordinary century to come.” To provide “real leadership,” Duke must take care of all of its workers, including contract workers, graduate workers, adjunct faculty, as well as all direct employees of the University. 

To this end, we demand that Duke University:

  1. Guarantee full pay for all workers, currently working or not, for the duration of the pandemic. This includes furlough pay at full rates for contract workers and summer funding for graduate workers.
  2. Ensure that all workers can return to their jobs once the University resumes normal operations (i.e., no worker should be required to re-apply for a job they held before or during the COVID-19 outbreak).
  3. Guarantee all workers the right to refuse unsafe work without the threat of retaliation from Duke University or its contractors.
  4. Guarantee free, comprehensive healthcare for all workers for the duration of the pandemic This includes free COVID-19 testing and access to vaccinations, should a vaccine become available.


Duke Contract Workers United

Duke Graduate Students Union

Duke Faculty Union

Concerned Alumni of Duke University

Austin Wadle, DGSU Co-chair

Matthew Taft, DGSU Co-chair

Claire Ravenscroft, DGSU member

Nancy Kalow, DFU Executive Board member

Robert Creamer, Trinity '69, Concerned Alumni of Duke University

Christopher Shreve, DFU Executive Board member

Editor's note: The University has committed to paying full-time employees. To learn more about Duke's pay policy, read our coverage.


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