Nfld. & Labrador

Happy, concerned and in between: MUN staff return to campus

If students are not back to campus, why do staff need to be? "It's a step in terms of moving university back to normal operations," says MUN's academic vice-president.

'I feel as safe here as if I was going to Costco or the mall,' says one staff member

Theresa Antle, president of Canadian Union of Public Employees Local 1615, says there 'is a lot of trepidation' for some Memorial University staff returning to campus. But she says MUN is following all the protocols to ensure it's a safe work environment. (Sherry Vivian/CBC)

Staff are back at Memorial University campuses as of Monday, prompting a mixed reaction related to the policy change announced last month. 

"People have a lot of concerns about their return to work," said Theresa Antle, president of Canadian Union of Public Employees Local 1615, which represents administrative, instructional and technical and other support staff at MUN. 

She said she fielded a lot of emails ahead of Monday's return. 

"There is a lot of trepidation," Antle said, especially in light of last week's new COVID-19 cases. There are 13 active cases in the province, including a cluster of five that does not have a confirmed source. 

"Our goal is to make sure our members come back to work safely, in a safe environment. And Memorial is following all the proper protocols and guidelines."

Staff are back at MUN campuses, but thousands of students still are not. (Sherry Vivian/CBC)

She said Local 1615 represents about 800 members, and 700 are back on campus. Antle noted some departments have approved people still working from home, and some medical accommodations have also been approved. 

'I feel pretty safe here'

Shawn Organ, an engineering laboratory technologist, does a lot of hands-on work in labs with undergraduate students and research work with graduate students. 

He said it feels odd to be back, since the regular hustle and bustle of a normal academic year hasn't returned, but he feels good about the return to campus. 

Shawn Organ says he feels as safe returning to MUN's campus as he does at Costco. (Sherry Vivian/CBC)

"You do like to come to work for social aspects — you get to see people, you get to talk to people," he told CBC News on Monday. 

Organ said MUN has many measures in place that make him feel comfortable, including plexiglass in some locations and contact-tracing protocols. 

"I feel pretty safe here.… I feel as safe here as if I was going to Costco or the mall," he said. 

'A step' toward normal operations

Academic vice-president Mark Abrahams said staff do a lot of things related to the institution, including student registrations, managing payroll and finances. 

Mark Abrahams, MUN's academic vice-president, says requiring staff to be back on campus is 'a step in terms of moving university back to normal operations.' (Sherry Vivian/CBC)

"We have 15,000 fewer people on campus at this point in time compared to where we would normally be. But our staff are our people who really make the university work, everything that keeps our university functioning," he said.

But if students aren't back on campus, why do staff need to be?

"It's a step in terms of moving university back to normal operations," he replied. 

 As far as what the spring term will look like — when it comes to students returning to campus for face-to-face instruction — Abrahams said there are discussions happening this week, though it's very unlikely that all spring term students will return. 

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from Stephanie Kinsella and Cec Haire

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