COGS files OSHA complaint calling the UI an unsafe work environment

The Campaign to Organize Graduate Students filed a complaint with OSHA, alleging a violation of health and safety policies at the University of Iowa during the ongoing pandemic.


Meg Doster

Members of COGS protest the lack of mask mandates on campus at the Pentacrest on Thursday, Sept. 2, 2021.

Ryan Hansen, News Reporter

The Campaign to Organize Graduate Students filed a complaint with the Occupational Health and Safety Administration for violation of unsafe working conditions at the University of Iowa. 

COGS alleges that the UI is in “violation of several of its own health and safety policies as well as federal law,” according to a Friday press release. The release said COGS filed the complaint on Sept. 21.

The OSHA complaint, filed on behalf of all on-campus employees at the UI, is the second COVID-related filing by a public university in Iowa this academic year. The United Faculty Union at the University of Northern Iowa also filed a complaint in August.

COGS member Caleb Klipowicz said the filing focuses on a few buildings at the UI where students and staff are subject to inadequate ventilation systems and cannot open windows in order to filter air. 

The buildings named in the complaint, obtained by The Daily Iowan, include McBride Hall, Halsey Hall, Phillips Hall, and the English-Philosophy Building. 

“The University is not following CDC guidelines for the prevention of COVID-19 transmission,” the complaint says. “Many classrooms with students who are not wearing cloth face coverings unnecessarily expose teaching assistants to COVID-19.”

The UI did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

COGS President Hadley Galbraith said the organization has not seen any changes made by the university.

“We’re hoping that this will add some urgency to our push and demand more accountability from the university,” Galbraith said.

COGS also filed an emergency grievance with the university, which brings up specific issues about UI policy.

RELATED: COGS ‘die-in’ to protest the UI’s COVID-19 management 

The grievance proposes a few solutions to the issues brought up in the organization’s filings, including requiring face coverings on campus and implementing regular testing for students and employees engaged in face-to-face learning.

Galbraith said in the release that the solutions provided in the grievance are “reasonable, attainable solutions that the university could put in place immediately.”

She added that the solutions would “save lives, protect our community, and improve the learning environment for students and instructors.”

Klipowicz said this week’s OSHA filing is an unprecedented grievance against the entire UI administration.

“We have a handbook for all employees in which health and safety for all employees is guaranteed,” Klipowicz said. “We’re asserting that not all employees are protected.”

He added that new policies implemented by the university over the summer overreach and harm instructors with disabilities or preexisting conditions.

“There are limits in how long instructors can take their classes online,” Klipowicz said. “Even if they have COVID, they can only take the class online two times, which is ridiculous.”

UI Assistant Vice President for External Relations Jeneane Beck wrote in an email to the DI that the UI is following state law and the guidance of its governing body, the state Board of Regents.

“The university is [in] the process of drafting a response to IOSHA outlining the current steps it is taking to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 on campus,” Beck wrote.

Beck wrote that UI’s current COVID-19 mitigation efforts include:

  • Strongly encouraging vaccination and mask-wearing on campus.
  • Requiring masks in health care settings and on CAMBUS in accordance with federal law and the state Board of Regents’ guidelines.
  • Providing disposable masks and hand sanitizer in every building.
  • Following CDC guidelines for cleaning and disinfecting.
  • Upgrading air handling units to MERV 13 filters, where capable.
  • Purging daily air by activating HVAC systems at least two hours prior to occupancy, where capable.
  • Adjusting operations to maximize airflow during occupancy, increasing filtration and fresh air, where capable
  • Weekly monitoring of wastewater for all residence halls
  • Providing KN95 masks for faculty and students who would like them; and
  • Working with immunocompromised faculty and staff on accommodations.

The UI College of Liberal Arts and Sciences’ guide for faculty says instructors cannot take classes online more than twice. The guidelines suggest instructors find guest lecturers or find someone to cover their classes if they have to miss class for an illness.

COGS asked the UI to allow instructors to take their classes online for four days instead of two, and to grant additional days for online instruction if they test positive for COVID-19, at their department’s discretion.

The UI has 10 days to schedule a meeting with COGS to discuss the filing and 10 days after that to respond formally to its complaints and solutions.

Klipowicz said the OSHA filing will go to the state, which will investigate the claims and issue its own decision.

COGS hopes to demonstrate its decision to stand with graduate workers through the filing, Galbraith said.

“Its purpose is to point out that current COVID policy does seem to butt-up against [OSHA] recommendations and regulations,” Galbraith said. “And to communicate to graduate workers that their union is not going to accept this situation without trying to act in the name of their safety.”