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Some thoughts on the Spring Break Decision

On January 5th, the arbitrator reached a decision on our compensation for spring break time. For each of the seven days we worked, we will receive a ‘vacation day.’ Subject to approval from school administration, and being given ‘expedited arbitration’ if we are denied a request, we can theoretically use these vacation days to take vacation during the school year. If we don’t use all 7 days, we can get the full value of the days upon termination of employment (with CAR days it’s only half the value). Some other notes:

  • We’ll apparently get these days officially credited to us on Feb. 1, 2022. 
  • Those of us who used CAR days during break for whatever reason may only get 3-6 vacation days (because 4 of our 7 vacation days are being converted from what we got added to our CAR). 
  • Anyone who retired or otherwise left the DOE will get compensated with the unused vacation time. 

This is a much better decision than it could have been. There was a time when it looked like we’d only be getting 4 CAR days after all and the best we could hope for is maybe 7 CAR days. A maximum of 7 vacation days with 1:1 exchange value is much better than that. However, I would like to raise a few concerns.

  1. We waited almost two years on a decision for working during a time we never should have had to work. Michael Mulgrew’s emails to us at that time are reproduced here. Note that we did not fight Cuomo on this. In fact, Mulgrew visibly backed Cuomo up on making us work Spring Break, noting  “I know it’s not fair, but it’s not fair for a lot of people right now.” Our union leadership should have fought this then–not publicly accepted it and waited for an arbitrator to hopefully side with us on compensation later.
  2. These vacation days are likely going to be harder to use than we think. For one thing, right now it would be impossible for an administrator to approve them. Our staffing crisis, caused by schoolborne COVID-infections at a time when it’s unsafe for us to be working in person, is making many of us work coverages on a day to day basis. It would be impossible for a principal to allow us to take a vacation right now, and we frankly don’t know if/when it ever will be possible. But assuming things get better, we can expect red tape from some principals. Chapter leaders will have to work to secure vacation rights in many schools, adding to their already too-long list of battles to choose whether or not to fight.
  3. A 1:1 exchange feels fair, but shouldn’t we have gotten more than that? When most workers are forced to work on a holiday, they get time and a half or more. Why are we only getting time?
  4. While I think vacation days can potentially be a very good thing, their addition to our timekeeping repertoire could spell disaster in upcoming contract negotiations. Remember, Adams wants to extend the school year. Unity Caucus extended our school day before for very minor raises. Flexible vacation days that have to be approved by principals (with the right to expedited arbitration if they deny) could very well become a model that the DOE brings to us in exchange for cutting or repurposing our summer break time. And that’s something very dangerous that at least needs to be on our radar. 

State of Schools Event this Sunday, 1/2/2022

Please join New Action, and our friends in the United for Change Coalition at our State of the Schools virtual event on Sunday, 1/2/2022 at 4:00 PM. You’ll meet many of our top candidates, who will speak to the urgent situation in our schools as Omicron spreads, along with a variety of other key issues outlined here in our platform.

Sign up for the virtual event here:

Winter is Here

As the hyper-contagious and vaccine-resistant Omicron variant overtakes Delta as the dominant strain in New York City, COVID-19 is poised to spread in our schools like never before. In response, our union leadership is offering up the Mayors’ promise for extra testing, more staff in the situation room, and reduced (yes, reduced) quarantining requirements as sufficient safety measures, which were (selectively) detailed in a recent email signaling to members that we’re reopening on Jan. 3 despite the surge. One key safety issue seems to have been swept under the rug:  it will now be impossible for many teachers to safely ventilate our classrooms.

This will be our first winter teaching inside physical buildings since 2020. Last school year (2020-2021), school buildings closed after Thanksgiving and didn’t reopen until the spring. We had some cold days, but never had to grapple with temperatures below freezing. Students will soon rightfully beg us to close our windows as the frigid January air gusts into unevenly heated rooms. But that’s a major problem, because for many NYC classrooms, windows are the only true source of ventilation. (Sure, we have air purifiers, but these noisy devices, which are impossible to teach over, aren’t  even actually HEPA-grade. So, if your electrical systems can even keep them running– many classrooms I’ve tried them in cannot–it’s unclear that they will do our staff or students much good anyways).

New Action is proud to be part of United for Change this year. We have put forward a much more comprehensive safety plan than what our union leadership just signed off on. Yes, increased testing is part of that (though, decreased quarantining is not). But if we’re going to keep schools open despite the escalation of the pandemic, then we’re going to need a whole lot more, including tackling ventilation during the winter. Until then, I guess we’ll just have to bundle up.

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January 2022