Newark Public Schools will have to reinstate sick days and repay its teachers and aides who had to isolate after being exposed to COVID-19, an arbitrator ruled Wednesday. The decision affects 800 people who will be reimbursed approximately $1 million in sick days and pay, the Newark Teachers Union estimated.
The union, the American Federation of Teachers Local 481, filed a grievance in October 2021 questioning the district’s policy of requiring staff to take available sick days or unpaid days when they had to isolate because their minor children tested positive, or because their children were close contacts of someone who tested positive, or because their children attended a school or day care closed due to COVID-19.
These “isolation” days, the union argued, were identical to “quarantine” days, which were paid days under the union’s contract.
The arbitrator, Robert C. Gifford, decided there was no legal difference between isolation and quarantine days.
The ruling orders the Newark Board of Education “to provide the affected bargaining unit members with the restoration of their used sick leave or, in the event that they did not have sick leave available, their regular pay for all absences that were occasioned by COVID-19.”
Calling the decision “a terrific Thanksgiving gift,” John M. Abeigon, president of the 4,000-member union, said the Newark Firefighters Union and New York State United Teachers had taken similar issues to court with limited success. He felt binding arbitration would yield a quicker resolution.
“It sounded idiotic to us from the very beginning,” he said of the district’s policy.
Four hundred members registered complaints with the union. Members did not have to be part of the grievance process to receive back pay or reinstated sick time, he said.
One Newark teacher, who did not give her name because she was not authorized to speak with reporters, said she will have one sick day reinstated.
“I know colleagues that had to quarantine because of having close contact with somebody with COVID, but who were not officially sick, who were upset to have to use their sick days,” she said.
Union officials estimated that with an average district-wide salary of $75,000 or $348.48 a day, if 400 members lost 5 days each, the decision would restore $700,000 to staff. Abeigon said he believed twice the registered members were affected, and he said his estimate of $1 million was conservative.
A message requesting comment from the school district was not immediately returned.
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Tina Kelley may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.