Lindsey West, Contributing Writer
VCU maintenance workers have faced abrupt changes in the face of the COVID-19 outbreak, having to adjust sanitation processes, scheduling and preparation for the possibility of coming in contact with the virus.
Shifts are now 12 hours, day or night, for three days a week, instead of eight-hour days, five days a week. VCU is implementing these extended hours and shortened weeks to limit interaction, better accommodate child care and prepare for emergencies related to the virus, according to a webpage of COVID-19 resources for VCU employees.
On the new schedule, three hours are designated for “professional development,” so employees are still working their normal amount of hours. The professional development is to prepare workers for a jump in COVID-19 cases, teaching how to use personal protective equipment when coming in contact with the virus.
“Physical Plant operations employees and custodial staff are practicing social distancing,” said VCU Facilities spokesperson Molly Case in an email. “Some examples include not riding in the same VCU-owned vehicles for work-related tasks, switching Physical Plant operations employees to the 12 hour shift schedule, and maintaining a six-foot distance when working alongside another employee.”
Those following the 12-hour shift schedule will receive the same pay as they did prior to the change, Case said. All non-designated employees are completing their work remotely to maintain their usual schedule and pay.
Now, there’s more flexibility regarding paid time off, and employees are eligible for up to 80 hours of public health emergency leave for both part time and full time workers. This is a new employee benefit that came specifically from the COVID-19 outbreak, Case said.
Previously, full-time 9, 10 and 12-month faculty members were given 64 hours of public health emergency leave, and part-time maintenance members and those who have been VCU employees for five years or less received 32 hours.
Workers are given more paid sick leave the longer they have been working for the university.
James Madison University, similar to VCU, has changed the work week schedule. Employees are working five days a week, but hours have been shortened from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Thursday, and 8 a.m. to noon on Fridays. Previously, maintenance workers were scheduled 7 a.m. to 5 p.m Monday through Friday. Other members of the maintenance teams were scheduled at various times, allowing for accomodations 24 hours each day. JMU is offering 80 hours of public health emergency leave if affected by the virus, and annual salaries will remain the same.
University of Virginia’s policy provides 160 hours of public health emergency leave for employees directly impacted by the virus. Most on-campus staff members are reporting to work online, but maintenance workers and those required on campus have had no change in scheduling.
George Mason University is implementing 160 hours of public health emergency leave for those directly impacted by COVID-19. This includes people with sick family members, chronic health conditions and accommodations to school closures. Employees required to work on campus are working on the same schedule.
Sanitation processes at VCU have been altered to focus on areas of high risk that people touch often. Employees who previously were assigned areas such as carpets have been relocated to cleaning door knobs, handles and elevator buttons. Cleaning staff has also been isolated to working in areas with designated employees and approved students on campus.
Both Monroe Park and MCV campus locations that have been exposed to individuals who tested positive for COVID-19 will be disinfected using electrostatic sprayers and disinfectant Virex. Virex II 256 is being used as the approved disinfectant.
VCU continues to regulate safety requirements based on health care specialists’ advice, Case said.
“Management will also remain flexible and take proactive steps to respond to shifting priorities and staffing schedules,” Case said.
More information from VCU on the COVID-19 pandemic can be found at vcu.edu/covid-19.