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. 
  5. Update 2/1/2022: We’ve heard reports that people who are owed 7 vacation days are only seeing 3 added in their CAR, especially if they have negative CAR balances. This means that ironically, many of us may have LESS new days in the system than we had before the arbitration decision (when we still had the 4 CAR days that have now been taken away). Make no mistake – this is what happens when you rely on arbitration decisions instead of actually organizing. Because of the convoluted process of adding 3 days for all, but 7 days only for some, many of us will undergo huge hassles to get the days we are owed added to the system. The headache of dealing with HR, because Michael Mulgrew didn’t do the work, is the antithesis of vacation.

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