On behalf of HPAE Local 5094, we reached out to Rutgers to call on the University to immediately implement remote work for all members who can work remotely. We continue to be underwhelmed by the University’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Its response falls well short of what we believe is necessary to keep us safe. While the University is asking upper management to assess whether employees can telecommute the first week of January, many of us are working during the days between Christmas and New Years and should be working remotely now. COVID-19 has begun to spread like wildfire, approaching never-before seen peaks in case counts. Cases in nearby New York City have been growing at a rate that is faster than any other point in the pandemic, with positive test counts doubling in mere days. As of last week, the City of Newark reported a positive test rate of 27.16% and it has enacted additional restrictions to stop the spread of COVID-19, including mask mandates and vaccination requirements to enter public events and businesses. There is no defensible reason to wait weeks to keep us safe, and these actions do not suggest that “the health and safety of our community remains [Rutgers’] top priority.”
We encourage you to ask your supervisor to allow you to telecommute immediately, and to encourage your co-workers to do the same – sharing your concerns and referring to the e-mail that was sent by the University on December 20th (reach out to a union rep if you need assistance handling your specific circumstances).
Considering the worsening trends in the COVID-19 pandemic, I’m requesting permission to telecommute immediately and until further notice, to keep myself and my family safe. I can perform my job duties remotely, and I would like to help stop the spread of COVID-19.
If you can perform your job functions remotely and are not permitted to work remotely, please share those responses with us. We’re already hearing of some large departments that have chosen to implement remote work already – earlier than the first week of the new year.
We also encourage you to send a letter to Executive VP Tony Calcado, and to copy VP of University Labor Relations David Cohen – letting him know of your concerns with these half measures, to call on them to immediately extend testing to vaccinated employees, and to allow all employees who can telecommute to do so immediately, to help curb the spread of COVID-19. Rutgers works because we do, and it’s past time for Rutgers to act like it.
In addition, we call on the University to immediately provide COVID testing for all employees. This is something many other universities have been doing. While Rutgers will be providing tests in the new year, many of us are working on site today.
Finally, we want to remind you that free COVID-19 testing is available in NJ, either at testing sites statewide or via saliva tests delivered to your home (note that due to demand, these have been taking about a week to arrive recently). Find out more by visiting:
Additionally, we strongly recommend getting vaccinated – to make yourself less likely to catch and spread the virus, and to prevent you from becoming seriously ill if you do contract the virus. We also strongly recommend getting a booster shot if it has been more than 6 months from your second dose of vaccine (or if you originally received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine), and that you seek out one of the two-dose vaccines, Moderna or Pfizer, if you can possibly do so (unless of course your doctor recommends otherwise). It’s also important to wear a face mask in all indoor settings – which should be a N95 mask at a minimum at this point. A vetted source of PPE available for purchase can be found at https://projectn95.org. We recommend avoiding situations where wearing a mask is not possible, such as indoor dining. If you are going to be getting together with family this holiday season, it would be prudent for everyone to take a rapid test before getting together.
Remember to reach out to a union rep if you have any specific concerns about this situation or any other workplace issues. We hope you have a healthy and happy end to this holiday season, and hope for a better year ahead.
Ryan Novosielski, Co-President, HPAE Local 5094
Justin O’Hea, Co-President, HPAE Local 5094