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See the latest news and updates about COVID-19 and its impact on the Charlotte region, the Carolinas and beyond.

Workers Sue UNC System Over Pandemic Safety As Students Return

UNC Charlotte

A group representing UNC System employees has filed a lawsuit arguing that work conditions are unsafe as students return to campuses amid the pandemic. The employees include instructors, maintenance workers and other staff.

The lawsuit contends that the universities’ "safety measures are inadequate” and that remote learning should be an option for students. The attorney for the group, Gary Shipman, says all system employees need more protective equipment such as masks and face shields and criticized UNC System officials for not requiring students to be tested for the coronavirus before returning to campus.

"They are relying totally on students to be truthful about whether they have symptoms, understanding that we now know that as many as 40% of patients who test positive had no symptoms," Shipman said. "And then once they get on campus, we’re relying on those same students to report symptoms that they have once they get on campus."

Shipman said employees are also concerned that faculty members will be responsible for making sure students wear masks in class and that those who do not elsewhere on campus will not be disciplined. He said that exposes employees outside the classroom to the virus.

"Staff will be the mask police and required to tell students to wear a mask and socially distance, and that’s not going to work," Shipman said. "We know that students are not wearing masks when they are supposed to and are not social distancing. College students who have been locked up for months are going to be college students, and that’s what’s going on."

Shipman said a Superior Court judge will set a hearing date for the lawsuit within 20 days.

UNC System officials maintain that the schools are safe as several reopened Monday, including UNC Charlotte.

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Gwendolyn is an award-winning journalist who has covered a broad range of stories on the local and national levels. Her experience includes producing on-air reports for National Public Radio and she worked full-time as a producer for NPR’s All Things Considered news program for five years. She worked for several years as an on-air contract reporter for CNN in Atlanta and worked in print as a reporter for the Baltimore Sun Media Group, The Washington Post and covered Congress and various federal agencies for the Daily Environment Report and Real Estate Finance Today. Glenn has won awards for her reports from the Maryland-DC-Delaware Press Association, SNA and the first-place radio award from the National Association of Black Journalists.