Editor's note: This story has been updated to reflect that UO’s COVID-19 website is updated daily from Monday through Friday, not twice a week.
Local unions have expressed concerns that the University of Oregon is not being transparent with them regarding its COVID-19 response and eroding their trust in the university.
SEIU Local 85 President Stephanie Prentiss said that classified employees are frustrated with UO’s communication when it comes to contact tracing. Prentiss said that after contact tracing is done, communication from UO stops.
While Lane County Public Health is responsible for contact tracing, UO conducts its own form of contact tracing, according to Associate Director of Employee and Labor Relations Chris Meade. In an email, Meade wrote that UO contacts employees who were exposed and work closely with supervisors.
“There could be instances when we communicate about a positive test in a department more broadly,” wrote Meade, “but we typically only share that information with those who meet the definition of a close contact because of medical privacy concerns.”
However, Prentiss said that UO does not communicate clearly about the situation with employees who were not contacted by UO or LCPH contact tracers.
“None of us necessarily want to know the person. We do want to know if there's been a cluster in areas so that we can prepare,” said Prentiss. “We can also passively reach out to that person, especially if someone’s close to them, or reach out to the people that are involved. And we were told, under no circumstances would they be ever releasing data from a department for a cluster.”
Prentiss also said that there is confusion with COVID-19 data and how it is shared. According to Prentiss, UO “floods” unions with information, but it is challenging for them to comprehend and interpret the data. The data is also on UO’s COVID-19 website, but Prentiss said employees need more support when it comes to getting that data.
“People have to be directed. And if they're not directed, it's just like anybody's website,” she said. “If you're not directed to look at it, you don't even know it's there.”
According to UO spokesperson Saul Hubbard, UO’s COVID-19 website is the primary way the university shares data. That website is updated daily from Monday through Friday and “is the quickest, most transparent, and most inclusive way of keeping our employees informed, as well as the wider Lane County community.”
In an email, Hubbard also wrote that UO has partnered with LCPH to create a COVID-19 Alert Level tool to help interpret data.
United Academics President Chris Sinclair said UO’s budgetary decision-making process is another point of contention with unions. He said that the current process does not allow for collaborative work between the administration and unions.
According to Sinclair, the university wants to move quickly when making decisions, but this makes it difficult for unions to get their input in. He said when issues get brought up early and workers say they want “X,Y and Z,” those issues are more likely to be addressed.
“Oftentimes decisions can be adjusted in ways that then make that person happy and maybe they only get X and Y, but not Z, but you've done the thing where you've listened to them, and you've adjusted,” said Sinclair. “This sort of process takes a lot of time, quite frankly, any collaborative process takes a lot of time, and administrators and board of trustees are not interested in things taking time.”
“The University absolutely takes our unions’ input seriously and can point to many instances where we have worked collaboratively with them to address their concerns,” Meade wrote, noting the creation of the Covid Relief Fund for employees and the Extended Benefits Program. Meade and other UO HR representatives meet with unions once every week or every other week.
However, Sinclair said that UO’s current decision-making process is eroding its trust with UA, and he would like to see the university take more time to listen to unions’ input to build trust.
Sinclair said he wants the current leadership at UO to make decisions after first talking to the union, and that this will build trust. “So that when that day comes, and you have to make an unpopular decision, people are like, ‘well, I get it,’ you know that they're trying their best. That's the kind of leadership I feel like we need here.”