Mar 202020
 
 March 20, 2020

Below please find answers to common questions from ASEs and Postdocs related to the impact of COVID-19. For additional information, you can also check out the UAW 4121 COVID-19 Resource Page on our website, which will be updated regularly as we continue to make progress on various fronts. If you have any questions that aren’t addressed here, or are facing issues with your work because of COVID-19, please email health-safety@uaw4121.org

Contents (scroll to find responses)

  • What is the University administration saying currently about whether I should come into my lab/office?
  • How do I know whether my position is considered “essential personnel”?
  • Have any labs/groups taken steps to ensure that their ASEs/Postdocs can work from home?
  • My PI/Chair/Supervisor is communicating that even though I’m not “essential personnel” I should keep coming to the lab.  What should I do?
  • I’m not “essential personnel” but I’m worried that if I don’t come into the lab I’ll miss an important deadline (for a conference, academic requirement, paper submission, etc).  What should I do?
  • I need to go to my lab because I’m responsible for making sure things don’t die/perish/expire. What should I do?
  • What do I do if I don’t think my lab space is safe?
  • I’m working remotely but I don’t have access to the technology I need to complete my assignment. What do I do?
  • I’m an hourly employee.  What does the CBA say about my pay/benefits?
  • What else can we do to make campus safer?
  • How do I transition to teaching my class online?
  • I’m worried transitioning to online instruction will increase my workload. What should I do?
  • My department/supervisor is telling me they’re going to change my appointment for Spring Quarter. Is that allowed?
  • I’m an international student/scholar and have concerns about travel. What should I do?

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What is the University administration saying currently about whether I should come into my lab/office?

Guidance and Resources most relevant to the work of Postdocs and Academic Student Employees can be found on the following pages:

Note that as of March 25, the Office of Research states that “Every researcher who can work remotely, must stay home for the next two weeks” and “No graduate student or postdoctoral fellow should be required to enter the research space if they do not feel safe in doing so.”

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How do I know whether my position is considered “essential personnel”?

According to the UW Human Resources Suspended Operations page, you should have received a written notice as to whether your position was deemed “essential.”  These positions are considered necessary to support or maintain: 

  • Human health, welfare and/or safety.
  • Information technology services or security.
  • Building or property security, safety, and integrity.
  • Research animals, specimens, or equipment.
  • Critical infrastructure (power, water, heat, roads, etc.).
  • Critical business, contractual, or legal obligations including employee payroll.

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Have any labs/groups taken steps to ensure that their ASEs/Postdocs can work from home?


Yes. Many labs have already taken steps to ensure that people can work from home and continue to make progress; even when access to lab space is fundamental to continuing research. See this document from the Institute from Protein Design and this email from the Chemistry Department as examples. Further, the Office of Research has stated as of March 25th that “Every researcher who can work remotely, must stay home for the next two weeks” and “No graduate student or postdoctoral fellow should be required to enter the research space if they do not feel safe in doing so.” 

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My PI/Chair/Supervisor is communicating that even though I’m not “essential personnel” I should keep coming to the lab.  What should I do? 

Guidance from public health experts is unequivocal: extensive community mitigation activities such as working from home are critical for minimizing morbidity/mortality of COVID-19 and for minimizing its social, economic, and health care impacts. The University Administration has also stated that “Every researcher who can work remotely, must stay home for the next two weeks” and “No graduate student or postdoctoral fellow should be required to enter the research space if they do not feel safe in doing so.” To help strategize about ways to communicate with your PI/Chair/Supervisor reach out to your union rep immediately or write to contractenforcement@uaw4121.org so that you can work with an elected union representative to ensure that your safety needs are met.  Your collective bargaining agreement provides strong protections against having to work in conditions that pose an imminent danger/threat to your health and safety, and against any retaliation for asserting your rights.  Many PIs across campus are proactively working to ensure that people have support they need to continue to do their work from home. You do not need to navigate this alone.

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I’m not “essential personnel” but I’m worried that if I don’t come into the lab I’ll miss an important deadline (for a conference, academic requirement, paper submission, etc).  What should I do?

Many deadlines are being relaxed right now to ensure that people can make safe choices about going to campus.  For instance, as the Office of Research reports, most sponsored programs are implementing maximum flexibility for postponed conferences. A union representative can work with you to develop requests to seek your supervisor’s help in providing extensions.  Contact contractenforcement@uaw4121.org to get in touch.

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I need to go to my lab because I have essential responsibilities such as animal care, maintaining instruments, etc, What should I do?

The Office of Research has stated that if “graduate students, postdoctoral fellows and research staff are responsible for essential laboratory operations, then they should maintain access to the research space for these activities. However, once these essential activities are accomplished – again, practicing proper social distancing – they should be encouraged to return to their remote workspace.”

If you still need to be physically present at your lab/office, you have the right to expect that all measures are being enacted to protect your health and safety: social distancing, screening for people who are symptomatic, washing hands, cleaning surfaces, etc. For instance, refer to the UW Office of Research’s guidance on social distancing in labs. Moreover, your collective bargaining agreement makes clear that you have the right to refuse to work in conditions that pose an imminent threat to health and safety.

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What do I do if I don’t think my lab space is safe?

Article 9 of the ASE collective bargaining agreement and Article 8 of the Postdoc collective bargaining agreement provide that you shall not be required to work in conditions that pose an imminent threat to health and safety.  To help determine the best way to enforce this right, reach out to a union representative at contractenforcement@uaw4121.org.

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I’m working remotely but I don’t have access to the technology I need to complete my assignment. What do I do?

Contact a union representative at contractenforcement@uaw4121.org.  Your collective bargaining agreement states that “The University shall supply and maintain all equipment, tools, and materials needed to carry out job duties safely.”  Start by looking at the Information Technology Resources that are available at this website [https://itconnect.uw.edu/work/working-remotely/technology-for-working-remotely/] and let us know if we can help navigate or advocate for improvements.

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I’m an hourly employee.  What does the contract say about my pay/benefits?

Some hourly ASEs — including tutors, graders, undergraduate TAs and RAs — have begun reporting that they are facing a reduction of hours because of the move to remote instruction and are taking action to address this. Please note that under Article 16 of the ASE contract, if our hours are reduced for any reason other than a financial emergency, we’re entitled to receive compensation for the hours that were not completed. This means that if you’re being compensated for fewer hours than you were expecting for the quarter and would like those hours to be paid, we can work with your department or hiring unit to ensure that your expectations are met.

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What else can we do to make campus safer?

Our union is participating with other campus unions in coalition bargaining to ensure that all campus employees receive financial support and all necessary health and safety protections. Together through efforts like this we can help “flatten the curve” and reduce the likelihood that our health care systems will be overwhelmed in the short-term. In addition, many ASEs and Postdocs are taking action within their departments or groups to address specific concerns. If you want to participate more in this effort please write to health-safety@uaw4121.org.

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How do I transition to teaching my class online?

On March 18, UW President Ana Mari Cauce announced that instruction for the entirety of Spring Quarter will be conducted remotely. The Center for Teaching and Learning has put together this webpage with information and resources for instructors. In addition, here is an FAQ on using Zoom. If you have concerns or are unsure how to manage your teaching responsibilities remotely, and have not received adequate guidance from your department or supervisor, please reach out to contractenforcement@uaw4121.org.

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I’m worried transitioning to online instruction will increase my workload. What should I do? 

Academic Student employees have very strong workload protections, and neither ASEs nor Postdocs can be required to work any unpaid time. Most graduate TAs and Predoctoral Instructors (those with 50% FTE appointments) cannot be required to work more than 220 hours in a quarter (about 20 hours per week), and cannot be required to work more than 30 hours in a week. All ASEs are encouraged to keep close track of your work hours as soon as work for Spring Quarter appointments begin. If you find that you’re regularly going over your normal weekly workload, or have any other questions, please get in touch right away. More information about workload is in Article 34 of the ASE contract

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My department/supervisor is telling me they’re going to change my appointment for Spring Quarter. Is that allowed? 

Both the ASE and Postdoc contracts have strong protections for appointment security, and if you have accepted an appointment, it cannot be taken away. While your department may be able to change your job duties, your pay and benefits must be commensurate with your original appointment, and any alternative assignments must continue to be paid (refer also to the previous question on workload). ASEs can find more information in Article 4 of the ASE contract; Postdocs can find more information in Article 4 of the Postdoc contract. If you have any questions or concerns about proposed changes to your appointment, please contact contractenforcement@uaw4121.org

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I’m an international student/scholar and have concerns about travel. What should I do?

The International Scholars Operations (ISO) outlines travel-related information for J1 exchange visitors at https://ap.washington.edu/ahr/visas/j1/travel. ISS has this page with information for students on F1 or J1 visas. ISS has also launched a Temporary Online Travel Signatures request process and form. The ISO recommends that if there is a possibility you will be out of the US for longer than 30 days but still working on UW-related duties, you should get in contact with their office as soon as possible (acadvisa@uw.edu) to coordinate the necessary paperwork. They will need an “Out of Country Request Form” signed by yourself and your supervisor. There is no such travel time limit for H1B visa holders; however, if you do plan to work from home outside of the US, you should still contact the ISO and inform them of your new work location. If you are a Postdoc on a J1 or H1B visa remaining in Seattle and you are working from home, the ISO can update your Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) record to reflect your home as a secondary activity site – acadvisa@uw.edu is the contact for that as well. At any time if you have questions about these and other issues – including visa and appointment length concerns – please contact our International Work Group for support and assistance at intl-solidarity@uaw4121.org.

All ASEs and Postdocs, including those who are not international students/scholars, can find additional information about travel on the Office of Global Affairs website

Last page update: March 26 at 2:30pm