COVID-19: Town hall, MSU workers concerned with going to work
BY JAIMIE JULIA WINTERS
Some township and Montclair State University employees are concerned with employees having to report to work during the COVID-19 pandemic, as both the township and the university remain in operation.
Although township operations have not shut down, Montclair closed all municipal offices to the public today, March 17.
In a letter sent out to the township and Montclair Local Monday, March 16, Montclair Township employees said they are concerned with the lack of response from the township in regards to COVID-19. While state workers are now working from home, Montclair’s municipal building is still open.
Other municipalities, especially in Bergen County where the highest number of COVID-19 patients have been reported, have announced town hall closures or remain open for appointments only.
Today, March 17, the township announced “physical public access to all municipal offices including but not limited to the Municipal Building, Police Department Headquarters, Fire Department Headquarters, Fire Stations, Department of Community Services and Department of Utilities will be suspended effective at 4:30 pm today and until further notice.”
Locally, South Orange town hall is closed, while West Orange, Bloomfield and Glen Ridge town halls are still open. Towns that have closed have increased phone and email responses from municipal staff to continue operations.
“Municipal employees departed their offices Friday afternoon with still no communication of any kind, to date, from township administration, Human Resources, nor the health department regarding COVID-19 and have not been provided with any directives nor plans to ensure the safety and health of the municipal workforce and the general public,” read the letter, which was signed “Concerned Municipal Employees Township of Montclair.”
On Tuesday, Montclair officials did not respond to an email asking if certain employees were allowed to work from home and what cleaning had been done.
According to the letter signed by employees, with the exception of hand-washing signs and informational flyers posted in the building, no guidance on actions employees can take to protect themselves or the public either within the building or on leave policies was given. They claim the facilities have not received any additional cleaning services. There has been no coordinated distribution of hand sanitizer nor Clorox wipes within the building to municipal employees, they contend.
“With now [four] positive cases in Montclair, the closures of the Montclair Public Schools, the Montclair Public Library and the Montclair YMCA, the cancellation of numerous community events, [closure] of bars and restaurants and the closure of all parks and recreation facilities, the lack of communication by the Township Administration directs to the full municipal workforce is very concerning,” the letter read.
On Tuesday, the township announced it would not allow in-person bill payments any longer; . All payments must be dropped off into the box located outside towards the front of the building, next to the U.S. Postal Service mailbox. No cash payments would be accepted. Fees for online payments would be waived.
In the event of an emergency requiring police, residents can call 9-1-1, or 973-744-1234 for non emergencies. A police officer will be assigned to the window on the left inside the front vestibule of the entry doors located at 647 Bloomfield Avenue. Police personnel will screen your call and determine if it is appropriate to take the report over the phone or if police will respond to take the report personally.
MSU staffers seek consistent communication
Although Montclair State University has extended spring break and will go to virtual learning when break ends this Monday, March 23, the campus remains open, including dorms, some labs, the library and the cafeteria. A campus employee was the first Montclairite diagnosed with COVID-19.
But employees are advocating to work remotely, said one administrator at the university who wanted to remain anonymous.
“Campus employees have advocated to work remotely in order to continue to support our students in a virtual capacity. Just like classrooms can go on in a digital format, other services such as academic advising, student support, counseling and psychological services, and customer service appointments can all continue to happen virtually in order to help the state's mission of social distancing while continuing to support our students,” she said. “While Gov. Murphy and the township of Montclair seem to be taking steps to stop the spread, Montclair State's insistence of forcing staff and employees to continue working seems counterproductive to the greater mission of containing the virus and protecting the community,” the employee said.
Apparently Murphy said in an address that Universities would be closing, but in his executive order concerning university closures not all operations would have to cease on campus.
Brian Abrams, VP for Internal Affairs for AFT Local 1904, which advocates for university employees said staff is receiving mixed messages. Professional staff, librarians and cafe workers are still reporting to work.
“Our professional staff and other employees want to do the right thing in the interest of their own, their family's, and their community's health and safety, but we have found the University to be inconsistent in its messaging about procedure, across different areas and levels of administration,” he said.
Montclair State University President Susan A. Cole said in a letter Tuesday that Gov. Phil Murphy’s executive order does not require Montclair State and other public universities to close.
“The actions taken by the University to this point are consistent with the governor’s order. The executive order requires institutions to shift instruction online, with very limited and few exceptions. The residence halls are not closing. All students are welcome to stay or to check out,” Cole said.
According to the Union as of March 16, employees who had the capabilities could work from home. Additionally, any employee whose child’s school was closed and is unable to work from home are permitted to apply sick time toward their absence.