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Newark teachers and staff to receive $1 million in back pay, sick pay, union says

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Last week, an arbitrator ruled that a Newark Public Schools directive requiring members of the teachers union, including teachers, aides and other school personnel, to use sick or personal days for COVID-related absences violated the collective bargaining agreement.

Now, more than a year after the union, American Federation of Teachers Local 481, filed a complaint, the district will have to pay about $1 million in back pay, sick time and personal time, Michael Mailaro, the union’s director of research and communications, told Chalkbeat by phone in Tuesday.

Union leaders estimate about 800 of their 4,000 members used sick or personal time when they had to stay home due to exposure to COVID or exposure to the virus, and those who ran out of days docked are paid for the days they stayed home due to the imposed quarantine.

Clause in the union of Art contract Union leaders say it has been in effect since the 1970s and lists “quarantine as determined by the Newark Board of Education’s health services department and the employee’s physician” as a case in which “no deduction shall be made from the regular employee’s wages for the absence “.

The union alleged in a complaint filed Oct. 13, 2021, that the Newark Board of Education violated its collective bargaining agreement by charging union members for sick or personal days when they were quarantined due to COVID-19, according to a copy of the complaint. .

The school district argued that teachers and school staff were required to stay home due to COVID to “isolate” rather than “quarantine” and therefore should have used sick days, according to a copy of the decision on the complaint.

After the grievance was filed and a resolution could not be reached between union representatives and the Newark Board of Education, it was referred to binding arbitration, Maillaro said. The Union and the County mutually selected a qualified arbitrator, Robert S. Gifford, who has been an arbitrator since 2001.

“I conclude that the broader, generally accepted meaning of the term ‘quarantine’ should be applied in this case,” Gifford said in his ruling. He added that the contract’s provision for paid quarantine leave applies to COVID-related absences.

The decision of the arbitrator in these cases shall be final and binding, and failure to comply may be considered an unfair labor practice pursuant to US Federal Labor Relations Authority.

A spokeswoman for Newark Public Schools did not respond to requests for comment.

School staff and teachers have been at constant risk of exposure to the virus, especially when schools first returned to full in-person instruction last fall, Maillaro said.

At times, he added, members who ran out of paid time off felt stuck, choosing between being honest about having COVID and losing pay, or not being honest in order to receive full pay.

“If you’re telling them they’re going to lose pay or lose their days, then I have to be honest about the fact that I have COVID?” – said Mailaro. “It’s a scary situation when we’re dealing with a pandemic, and you don’t want people to be afraid to be honest about their situation.”

One union member, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation, said losing sick and personal time due to quarantine feels like a shot in the arm for teachers.

“It just showed us how much value we have in their eyes,” the teacher said in a phone interview Tuesday. “How much do our superiors care about us? We still pump out work even when we’re sick, and you say we need to use personal time?’

Newark educators had hoped to return to “normal” life last year to avoid filing a breach-of-contract lawsuit, said Donna M. Chiera, president of the American Federation of Teachers’ New Jersey chapter.

“This decision, which forces the administration to honor the written contract, is not only a victory for the Newark Teachers Union and its members, it also sends a message throughout New Jersey,” Chiero said in an emailed statement. “That message is that collective bargaining agreements are not guidelines that school districts can arbitrarily follow when it works for them; they are legal documents that must be followed.’

Union President John Abeygon said the arbitrator’s decision is a “huge victory” for union members and to protect the health and safety of school staff and students.

“Even when staff were exposed to COVID in schools, they were forced to use their sick time and in many cases faced additional negative consequences,” Abeygon said in an emailed statement.

Maillaro said it could be weeks or months before the county complies with the arbitrator’s decision on the back wages and sick pay. As of Wednesday, the union had not heard back from the district at all, as the final decision was made last week, he added.

Still, teachers who eventually get sick and have personal time back have much to celebrate, said the teacher, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

“People are very happy to bring back those days, because they didn’t think it was fair from the beginning,” said the teacher. “When you know a rainbow is coming, you just try to enjoy yourself.”

Kathryn Carrera is the Chalkbeat Newark bureau chief, covering the city’s K-12 schools with a focus on English Language Learners. Contact Kateryna at the address ccarrera@chalkbeat.org.

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