04 Aug Negotiating Vaccination and Remote Work Accommodations
- UICUF Met with Admin Friday: In our first meeting, we reaffirmed members’ support for a strong vaccine and safety policy when we start Fall semester.
- Vaccine Mandate: Admin confirmed that vaccine compliance and reporting was NOT a condition of employment but left the consequences for noncompliance largely unspecified. At this time we are still encouraging faculty to get vaccinated if possible and to register your vaccine status through UIC Healthcheck to allow for better fall planning.
- Accommodations for Remote Work: We discussed the limitations of seeking accommodations through the current process, only offered under ADA guidelines. UICUF and Admin seem to agree that non-ADA accommodations should be available and worked out at the unit level as needed, though details are still being considered.
- What Students are Being Told: In case you have not seen it, this is the latest message to students on vaccines and remote learning. Note that remote-learning accommodations aren’t unlimited, and admin encourages students to discuss options with their faculty.
We met with UI Labor Relations and Acting Provost Karen Colley on Friday and began the process of seeking clarification and agreement on the vaccine mandate, other safety measures, and remote work accommodations. It was a generally positive meeting, with both sides seemingly in alignment, at least in principle, on most of the big issues. We very much appreciate Acting Provost Colley’s ready willingness to meet and work with us during her time in office.
We in particular reaffirmed our members’ strong interest in having a thorough and clearly defined vaccine policy, implemented as soon as possible–a sentiment that the administration clearly agrees with. We did seek answers on how the vaccine mandate would be enforced, and while administration confirmed that they don’t view vaccination as a condition of employment per se (meaning no one will get fired for non-compliance or non-disclosure), it was much less clear what actually would happen in the case of non-compliance. At this time, we’ve been told faculty will be getting notices that they are out of compliance, and that their unit heads will be notified. We are asking for more details.
UICUF wants to establish clear guidelines so that the results of vaccine non-compliance or non-disclosure are understood by all parties well before they are put to the test, and to assure that enforcement is fair and consistent.
We are also seeking clear guidance on how exemptions are being considered so that our members know whether they are eligible, and also so that we can confirm the process is rigorous for our members’ safety. We believe it would serve everyone’s peace-of-mind, as well as fairness and equity generally, to know how the exemption process works.
Finally, in regard to vaccine compliance, we asked if the administration anticipated meeting the CDC definition of a fully vaccinated campus. At this time, the administration seems to be unable to give a clear answer, and we will continue probing on this important issue. At a fully vaccinated campus, where all individuals present are vaccinated, other mitigations like distancing can be loosened or even eliminated entirely. However, if UIC does not meet the requirements, it could mean that distancing would have to remain in place, significantly changing the dynamic of class sizes and spaces.
Remote Work Accommodations
The other major item for consideration we discussed was how remote work accommodations would be handled. It’s long been our position that the current policy of requiring anyone seeking accommodations to go through the ADA process is an inadequate response given the realities of the COVID pandemic. The policy does not, for example, provide for anyone who has vulnerable family or household members because it focuses solely on the individual health of the worker seeking the accommodation.
Again, the administration team appeared to agree, in principle, that a broader framework for accommodations should be considered. They specified, and we largely agree, that such determinations should be made at the unit level, between faculty and their supervisors. However, we intend to seek a clear affirmation of this sentiment in writing, along with guidance to all unit heads that reinforces the need for flexibility wherever possible. Again, the concern is that such a sentiment without any guidance or written agreement to back it is liable to produce unequal and inequitable outcomes across different units. While one size cannot fit all situations, we believe a duty on the part of unit heads to meet and negotiate with faculty seeking an accommodation is an appropriate step.
What Students are Being Told
We want to bring attention to the latest updates for students regarding vaccine status and remote learning. Importantly, the administration has said that students are expected to be vaccinated if possible, that vaccinated students are expected to be on campus, and that the availability of remote learning is not a given. They further say that those who qualify for accommodations to learn remotely (which will NOT be automatically granted to vaccine-exempt students) will likely need to discuss details with faculty. All of this is to say that faculty autonomy is very much still in place in terms of teaching methods, and UICUF will stand ready to assist faculty with concerns in this area.
As ever, we highly encourage you to send us your thoughts and questions, general or specific, regarding vaccination mandates, return-to-campus, remote work, or any other concerns you may have. We will continue updating the membership as the situation evolves.
UIC United Faculty
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