Campus, Coronavirus, News

Laid off COVID-19 testing-site workers search for new jobs as surveillance testing ends

COVID-19 testing center employee lay offs
Boston University’s COVID-19 test collection site at 808 Commonwealth Avenue. Nearly 175 Boston University COVID-19 testing site workers will be laid off at the end of regular community testing May 23. DAVID YEUNG/DFP STAFF

Up to 175 Boston University COVID-19 testing site workers will be laid off, as regular community testing for faculty, staff and students comes to an end May 23.  

After four semesters of surveillance testing, beginning May 23, only symptomatic testing will be available. Students are still required to continue testing weekly until May 13, or when they leave campus. 

Across BU’s three testing centers, an average of 4,060 tests are processed daily, according to BU’s COVID-19 data dashboard

Kevin Gonzales, director of Collection Site Operations and the Back2BU Health & Safety Initiative, wrote in an email the large number of COVID-19 testing-site workers is no longer necessary, and testing-site workers were informed in early March about the May layoff plan.

“Because the surveillance testing program is scheduled to end on May 24th, there is no longer a requirement for the large labor force it takes to make this operation run,” Gonzales wrote.

BU is assisting testing site employees with the task of finding new employment by launching a “Path Forward” career placement program to facilitate the search process, BU spokesperson Colin Riley wrote in an email.

“HR also has reached out to the hiring managers of open positions at BU to let them know of individuals who may be candidates for those jobs,” Riley wrote.

Riley said the laid-off testing site workers will not be guaranteed a new position at BU. 

We recognize that these employees demonstrated tremendous dedication to BU during a critical time for the University,” Riley wrote.

Massachusetts labor attorney Dennis Coyne wrote in an email that a 60 day Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification notice is required in cases such as this one — when an employer with 100 or more full-time employees lays off at least 50 at a single site.

Collection site specialist Erika Jeter said she was given enough notice before the layoffs — approximately two months and in compliance with the WARN act.

“They’ve been giving us resources to find new jobs at BU and other Boston-area jobs,” Jeter said.

Like Jeter, Randolph Charlotin, another collection site specialist, anticipated the layoffs, given the temporary nature of the jobs. 

“You look realistically at the situation, and how COVID is slowly winding down,” Charlotin said. “I had the impression that [this job] wouldn’t last forever.”

Although BU hired liaisons to work with hiring managers to help employees find new jobs, a testing site employee — who spoke on the condition of anonymity due to a fear of retaliation in seeking employment — said they feel finding a new job at BU has been difficult.

“I’ve been trying to find a [new] job at BU for a long time,” they said. “Since I knew that this testing position was hopefully temporary — we don’t want to be in COVID forever. But, I’ve been looking for a job for a while and it’s been difficult.”

Emre Karabay, a sophomore in the College of Engineering, said he is not looking forward to asymptomatic testing ending after this semester. 

“I honestly like knowing that people around me are getting mostly tested weekly,” Karabay said.  “You have some peace of mind.” 

Cases have been on the rise in recent weeks, peaking on April 20 with 198 cases the highest they had been since January

 

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