As president of the University of New Mexico Staff Council, Ryan Gregg regularly hears from many staff members. However, the coronavirus outbreak has generated the most comments and questions from staff since he began his term almost a year ago, Gregg said.
"Staff are concerned about their families and the health of their loved ones. Staff are also concerned about the future of their jobs," Gregg said.
Last week, more than 31,000 New Mexicans filed unemployment claims, according to the New Mexico Department of Workforce Solutions.
The week before that, a record 3.3 million Americans applied for unemployment, the Labor Department reported, as businesses across the country shut down in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19.
As college campuses close or move to a period of limited operations as part of the same effort, UNM continues to pay all of its staff for the work they're scheduled for, regardless of whether or not they're actually able to do that work.
"With so many in our community losing their jobs, it's very unique that UNM has continued to provide everyone with their current pay, regardless of which of the work tiers they're in during the limited staffing," Gregg said.
The University had continually reduced the number of employees on campus for the past two weeks. All employees have been sorted into three work tiers: those working and physically present on campus, those working remotely and those who are on standby and available to report to work if needed.
Some — like transportation specialist and staff council representative Jesus Chavez — are arguing for hazard pay for those tier 1 employees who are working on campus, like custodians. It's unclear if UNM leadership is considering granting hazard pay.
"I think it's important to show appreciation to those who are showing up despite the risk to themselves and their families," Chavez said. "I can only hope after more consideration they (UNM) understand the risk tier 1 employees take and give compensation for that risk."
The University is providing up to two weeks of conditional paid leave to employees who contract or are exposed to COVID-19 and must self-isolate. This is available to all employees, including those not typically eligible, like temporary and on-call employees.
Sick leave usage is also being expanded, allowing employees to use their sick leave for a wider range of reasons, including caring for sick family members or children who are at home due to school closures.
As of the publication of this article, the sick leave expansion is temporary and set to last until April 30.
The current time parameter could pose problems as COVID-19 cases continue to rise in New Mexico and statewide school closures have been extended to the rest of the school year, as announced on Friday. As of March 29, the total number of coronavirus cases in the state stands at 237, with 101 cases in Bernalillo County.
"Since (Albuquerque Public Schools) has extended the closure, consideration should be taken. Many people have children that attend APS, and accommodations should be made for those affected by this," Chavez said.
At this time, the University said it does not plan to lay off any of its employees.
Bella Davis is a freelance reporter at the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @bladvs