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Unlike students and some faculty and staff, Duke’s contract workers not yet included in surveillance testing

Duke’s surveillance testing program has not yet expanded to include contract workers, which the former president of the union representing Duke employees said shows a lack of care for those workers on the part of the University.

Duke’s initial announcement of pooled surveillance testing focused on students living on campus but noted that the program would eventually expand to off-campus students and other members of the community. Students are currently required to participate in surveillance testing, and Michael Schoenfeld, vice president for public affairs and government relations, said that faculty and staff with “regular and extensive contact with students” may opt in to the program.

Contract workers are not yet included, according to Vice President for Administration Kyle Cavanaugh. Surveillance testing will expand to include them “as soon as the logistics can be worked out, which should be very soon,” he wrote in an email.

“No groups have been excluded. The surveillance program has been consistently expanding through the semester, so contract staff will be invited to participate,” wrote Cavanaugh, Duke’s emergency coordinator. “The approach has been to grow the program systematically and to [ensure] the program continued to provide all the logistical support needed.”

He noted that contract workers have “been able to participate in daily symptom monitoring and symptomatic testing for the past several months.”

The University announced its plan to begin pool testing undergraduate students in August, and testing began the first week of classes. Students report to an on-campus testing site on their designated day and self-administer a nasal swab test.

“Very few” contract workers have tested positive for COVID-19, and these cases are included on Duke’s tracking dashboard, Cavanaugh wrote. Last week, two positive tests were reported for faculty and staff out of 1,423 tests conducted on them, and both of those tests were administered to faculty or staff who had symptoms or had been contact traced.

Charles Gooch, an employee at Marketplace and a former president of the Local 77 union, which represents Duke housekeeping and Marketplace employees, said he doesn’t feel Duke’s administration is doing enough to keep its contract workers safe.

“We are not that important to the administration,” Gooch said. “We’re vulnerable. We feed people, clean up behind people, take out the trash, do sanitation, do the lawn care–that’s all that matters.”

Gooch said that he doesn’t know of any Marketplace workers who have been tested by Duke for COVID-19.

“They don’t care about us,” he said. 

Cavanaugh declined to comment on Gooch’s statements. In an earlier email, he wrote that there are “significant safety protocols” in place in Duke Dining facilities, including personal protective equipment, training and symptom monitoring.

Contract workers make up 84% of the University’s food service workers. Their exclusion so far from surveillance testing follows a summer of uncertainty for this segment of the community: After COVID-19 halted most on-campus operations, many contract workers weren’t guaranteed pay because nearly half were considered “part time.”

Matthew Griffin contributed reporting. 

Correction: This article has been updated to reflect that Charles Gooch is an employee at Marketplace, not a contract worker. The Chronicle regrets the error.

Editor's note: This article has been updated to clarify that the Local 77 union represents employees. An earlier version implied it represented all workers. This article was also updated at 12:34 p.m. Thursday to reflect that Cavanaugh declined to comment on Gooch's statements. 

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