For universities, COVID-19 has changed the atmosphere drastically. It’s evident that professors and students have had to adapt to their new way of learning. However, it hasn’t been shown how the other staff on UNB’s campuses have been affected.
The maintenance/cleaning team on campus is not well known but plays a huge role in student’s lives. After campus was shut down in late March, the staff’s jobs were affected permanently.
The team takes care of the residence buildings and, subsequently, the students that live there. If someone is locked out or needs assistance, they come to help regardless of the hour. When pipes burst, toilets overflow, and things get out of control – the staff gets called in.
Mike Bell has been working at UNB for 14 years. Bell has had to leave his house in the middle of the night on several occasions to help students who’ve had too much to drink.
“This one fella got sick and busted a window around two in the morning,” said Bell, yet he still feels, “it’s a great place to work.”
“The campus is so empty, I’m by myself a lot more now,” said Dolores Halfyard, who is the Residence Operations Coordinator, meaning that she takes care of the maintenance workers. She first started working at UNB in 1985 and then left for four years, returning in 1994.
Due to the global pandemic, the university has gone from 14 residence buildings to two. This drastic change comes from international travel being banned. The decrease in student numbers has caused 12 staff members to lose their jobs.
Now, being the only woman amongst four men, Halfyard often finds things tough when needing support.
“If I was having a bad day, I’d go talk to one of the girls, they’d lift my spirits. I don’t have that support at work anymore,” said Halfyard, “I have a lot of depressed days.”
Not only has Halfyard had to deal with losing close coworkers, but she is also dealing with the passing of her mother in late December. Due to COVID-19 restrictions she has not been able to properly mourn with her family in Newfoundland.
“My heart was broken.”
The hardest change at work for Halfyard has been losing those 12 members.
“The team that was here were the people I reached out to,” she reflected. She explained that she kept in contact with most of them, but it’s not the same.
The displaced workers are able to gain their jobs back in 12 months if their spaces become available again. Some have moved on and found new jobs, while others are waiting, hoping to return.
“Every one of them said if they were called back here tomorrow, they’d be here in a heartbeat,” Halfyard explained.
While Halfyard awaits her retirement in two years, Bell worries for his future at UNB. He is hoping to have things on campus back to normal by next fall.
“If people abide by the rules, we can avoid a second wave,” he explained hopefully.
If the campus is forced to shut down again, it could cause the few workers that are left to lose their jobs. Bell also indicated his despair at having lost contact with so many friends, but fears for his own job as well.
“I just want the full team back and things back to the way they were,” said Halfyard.