Throughout the pandemic, teachers were forced to take sick days for not only their exposure to COVID-19 but also to stay home to take care of their loved ones although they were not personally infected. And in Newark, New Jersey, a teachers union found this to be troubling.
Approximately 800 teachers and aides were reimbursed nearly $1 million in sick days and pay, NJ.com reported. The compensation came after a teachers union filed a grievance claim in October 2021 calling out the district after it forced school staff to use sick or unpaid days under various circumstances, such as their children testing positive, their children being exposed to someone who tested positive, or their child’s school or daycare abruptly closing for some time due to an outbreak.
American Federation of Teachers Local 481, the union that filed, argued that these forced “isolation” days were basically “quarantine” days, to which still receive pay according to the union’s contract, but not for isolation days.
Robert C. Gifford, the arbitrator that ruled in favor of the union, concluded that there was no legal difference between the two.
“The Board is directed to provide the affected bargaining unit members with the restoration of their used sick leave or, in the event they did not have sick leave available, their regular pay for all absences that were occasioned by COVID-19,” according to a Facebook post from the Newark Teachers Union. John M. Abeigon, president of the union, said it was a “terrific Thanksgiving gift.”
Other school districts faced similar issues. Teachers at Indianapolis Public Schools were at risk of losing out on bonuses after being required to quarantine just before the end of the school year in May, Chalkbeat reported. To be eligible for the $1,500 bonus, which was announced in March, staff could not take more than two sick days for the rest of the spring semester.
“It seems totally wrong to me,” said one of the teachers in an interview with the news organization. “By the policy, they are telling people to come to work sick.”
In an interview with NJ.com, Abeigon expressed his view of the Newark district’s quarantine policy. “It sounded idiotic to us from the very beginning,” he said. “I know colleagues that had to quarantine because of having close contact with somebody with COVID, but were not officially sick, who were upset to have to use their sick days.”
In Newark, union officials said the $1 million reimbursement is a rough estimate based on average salaries and sick days taken. According to union officials, 400 members filed complaints, which sums up to roughly $700,000 in reimbursements. However, Abeigon alleges that twice the registered members were impacted by the policy.