"What do we want? Safer conditions! When do we want them? Now!" protesters demanded Tuesday at Medgar Evers College (MEC) campus in Crown Heights.
With pickets in hand, faculty and staff, many of them members of CUNY's Professional Staff Congress (PSC) union, voiced their concerns about what they said was the college administration's failure to fully comply with COVID-19 ventilation protocols at several campus buildings.
The protesters criticized the new college president, Dr. Patricia Ramsey, for not meeting with PSC leaders to discuss their concerns. They said MEC officials had given the union only partial information about ventilation in buildings where staff work and some classes meet.
Their concerns go beyond building ventilation, Travis Sweatte, an MEC adjunct professor, told BK Reader.
"We had a virtual town hall meeting last night, and things like the entire library being supplied with a single bottle of sanitizer and a single box of wipes, multiple people reporting absolutely no ventilation in their workplaces. Even just basic hygienic conditions are being utterly disregarded," Sweatte said.
He continued: "Faculty and workers are being forced to meet with students who are deemed unsafe because they can't provide proof of vaccination or negative COVID test. They (faculty and workers) are being told to just go meet with them outside the building because it's unsafe for them to come into the building."
In a statement provided Tuesday to BK Reader, Ramsey said she was "actively working with MEC's chapter of the PSC and plans to meet with its leadership in two days, on Thursday, September 2," adding that "she has heard their concerns and each issue is in the process of being addressed and remediated."
The union's concerns
Walkthroughs were conducted and some of the buildings at MEC were fine, president of the PSC union and a Brooklyn College professor James Davis told BK Reader.
"The issue now is that there are some buildings that have outstanding issues around ventilation and airflow," he explained. "And when you have an airborne disease like COVID-19, you just can't take any chances."
MEC isn't the only CUNY college where union leaders have COVID-19 safety concerns.
"We were at Hunter College. We've been at LaGuardia Community College and Hostos Community College. So we're just going to continue as we need to, to keep the pressure on the college administrations to do the right thing," said Davis, whose union represents 30,000 CUNY faculty and staff.
Sweatte said there was "clearly a level of apathy" on the administration's part.
"I don't understand how you can have over a year-and-a-half to prepare for a return to in-person learning and people are returning to these conditions," he stated.
"Is it ineptitude? Is it avarice greed? Is this about budget cuts and operating a public university within austerity budgets? Or is it just a disregard for the lives of the people who work and attend school here?" the professor asked.
In coming to the table to resolve the concerns raised, Ramsey said, "This is a difficult time for all faculty, students, and staff as we work collaboratively to adjust to and overcome the challenges of our new normal."
The college president added that she was looking forward to the meeting on Thursday to hear the union's concerns "and to agreeing on a path forward so that we can focus on supporting our students for a productive and successful semester."