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The Voice of the Black Community


UNC: University Needs Cleaning
Housekeepers urge chancellor to fire director
Published Wednesday, September 7, 2011 6:12 pm
by Sommer Brokaw

A petition is circulating urging UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor Holden Thorp to remove and reassign Tonya Sell, the assistant director of housekeeping.

George James, a UNC housekeeper who also serves as an employee forum delegate, said there was a history of “authoritarian” leadership and a culture of sexual harassment before Sell arrived, but she has made things worse.

Sell, who served 15 years in the Navy, was hired in 2007 and promoted to assistant housekeeper in 2009. Controversy over her hiring heated up last year, when she told UNC’s student newspaper, The Daily Tar Heel, that she “attempted to slap sense” into less professional housekeepers. The community, students and faculty rallied to support the housekeepers’ petition to change a “repressive work environment, egregious and discriminatory management practices,” and to remove Sell.

“The history of dehumanizing and inappropriately controlling the rank-and-file UNC Chapel Hill housekeepers is a decade long and recent developments are the baptism, not the birth, of our struggle to address this issue,” James wrote in a an email. “The housekeeping department operates in a manner that is opaque and insular. It has favored ex-military leaders in its highest positions for several years and has been showing a tendency to seek to promote other ex-military (as well as certain ‘rogue’ zone managers) into lower leadership positions. Being a veteran is not the problem, here. But the boot-camp mentality and extremely ‘authoritarian’ style of leadership that these people have brought to housekeeping are problems.”

Thorp hired PRM Consulting Group in March to interview housekeeping employees regarding working conditions and management practices, and to report its findings.

“For too long, UNC-Chapel Hill housekeepers have struggled to obtain decent working conditions and respect they have earned as workers who assure that UNC students have clean dorms, cafeterias, libraries and athletic department areas,” supporters of the new petition said. “But “sexual harassment, health and safety violations, favoritism and unfair disciplinary practices are continuing,” with fear of retaliation for speaking out.

A formal letter to the chancellor, along with the petitions being circulated, was delivered to Thorp on Sept. 2. They also held a housekeepers’ vigil.

University officials confirmed that Sell, who could not be reached for comment, is still working for the university. Neither Thorp nor Vice Chancellor of Human Resources Brenda Malone could also be reached.

UNC spokesman Michael McFarland said the average salary of a housekeeping employee is $25,412. According to the most recently compiled grievance statistics in calendar year 2010, housekeepers filed 22 grievances.

Civil rights attorney Al McSurely represents two women, Isabel Prudencio-Arias and Amanda Hulon, who recently filed lawsuits alleging sexual harassment.

“It is an article of faith among the leaders there that “casual socialization” of management with our female co-workers is one of the perks of being a manager,” James wrote. “Some of the victims are immigrants and don’t realize (at least at first) that there are laws in this country against this kind of treatment or that they have a right to refuse. The victims of this kind of abuse and intimidation, both immigrants and native-born, are usually afraid to speak out for fear of losing their jobs. When they reach the breaking point, they come to us in desperation, seeking some kind of help. This is a seamy underside of housekeeping that we are determined to expose to the light and allow to heal.”

Wade Farrington, whom Hulon filed a sexual harassment report against, is no longer a university employee. But Gwen Stanley, whom Hulon was transferred under and who she said retaliated against her as a friend of Farrington, remains an employee in the campus services division. Stanley’s annual salary is $37,654.


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