Monday, September 13, 2021

UFT Executive Board September 13, 2021--The Good, the Bad, and the DOE

VP Karen Alford--Saw incredible energy in schools, though teachers had angst, none showed in schools she saw today. Saw bands and pom poms, love grace and energy. Felt like a homecoming. Hope you had same. Our teachers are the best.

VP Janella Hinds--Also saw lots of energy at her school. Different this year was number of parents standing outside watching teenage kids go in. Were tears, hugs, haven't seen this much parental turnout before. Students welcomed with music and balloons.

VP Rich Mantel--Was great. Same energy, enthusiasm. Didn't see as many parents. Folks were happy to be with kids. Hope you all also had great day.  

Mike Schirtzer--Great first day, kids super excited to be back. Concern with lack of testing. All should be tested. With 3 year old at home unvaccinated would like all eligible students vaccinated. Would like remote options for those who need it.

UFT President Michael Mulgrew--Thanks us. Echoes what officers reported. Didn't think this would be the smoothest school opening. Many people volunteered and were trained in safety, social-emotional things. Today everyone in this union should be very proud of membership and how hard we worked. Things were very smooth. We don't have final attendance, but was north of 800K. 

I thought entry app would crash but MS moved quickly and gave more broadband. Teachers seemed to say we got this, and saw this over and over. Saw balloons, bands, red carpets, happy parents. They were just as anxious as we've been but this was a great day, the smoothest opening ever. City lucky to have folks in this union. You saw how important it was to do their jobs.

Now we can talk a little more freely about some things. We have not been happy about last-minute decisions. We had to do things on fly--safety protocols. There will be big air filters in cafeterias. Schools are clean. We have safety hot line set up. 

Vaccine mandate--We knew majority of our members were vaccinated. We have highest % of city workers. There is convo about challenging it. Five unions mandated, not just us. There may be more. I knew because of 9/27 deadline lawsuit would take too long, so we moved into impact bargaining. Otherwise city could have dumped people off payroll, and that was their position. They wanted to do that, so we went immediately to PERB. We also had to go to court, as they wanted to recognize exemptions and remove people from payroll.

We tried mediation for three days, and moved to arbitration. We needed to move forward. Exemptions and accommodations had to be honored. We can't have medical conditions used to take people off payroll. We heard a lot from membership, about, for example, pregnancy. All doctors took position if you're pregnant you should be vaccinated. We didn't want people giving birth to lose medical coverage, so we put that on the table, and looked for ways for people to do meaningful work. 

We made a much stronger case than city. Toward end, mayor spoke publicly about arbitration. Not supposed to do that. He said city of course would recognize exemptions and keep them on payroll. Mayor said he was always going to do this but that was never the case. Thursday we pushed because we needed a decision. Medical accommodations were being denied. Was very ugly. Denying vaccinated people with no immune system. Doctors said you can't be inside of schools, and some can't leave homes. 

Things got ugly. On Friday we said we needed a ruling. Thanks members, staff, and some people volunteered to go on TV if necessary. We did press conference with people being denied. This changed, I believe, final outcome, as people saw conditions and what they suggested. Friday evening we finally got arbitration even as city denied having denied people. City apologized, called denied members and apologized to them. 

Don't usually agree with Post, but their headline was de Blasio loses to UFT. These members have to be protected and will be. 

Issue now with members who don't want to take vaccine. Anyone who's applied for exemption, we don't believe city will be done by Sept. 27. Decision will wait on appeals process. This will be done by neutral party, not city. People who don't want to take vaccine, without exemption, will be put on involuntary leave, but will have medical benefits until November 30. Up to Oct. 29 severance package is available. Can use sick days one for one and will keep medical coverage for rest of year. Will not lose license, and can return. Can also opt for voluntary leave until next September and keep medical coverage. On September 5 are automatically resigning. If you do nothing, on Dec. 1, city will file disciplinary charges and go after license.

Unions are challenging court case.We say city can't grant exemptiomns and remove people simultaneously, Only our members are covered under arbitration, but it will be used as evidence in court case. So far, this is working. Many people helped. Agreements are just for one year. All of these are subject to operational complaints, except salary. 

Cafe big concern for us now. If not possible to use, we think there can be lunch and learn, and teachers will receive coverage for every day it's done. DOE agreed to all provisions from last year. 

Mike Sill--Everything in memo, time off for vaccine, for side effects, COVID symptoms, if been told to quarantine, days won't come out of CAR. These are limited. More time for leave at 2/3 pay, up to 12 weeks. Last year didn't apply to health care workers, this year they do.

Mulgrew--Mask policy--We now have one to deal with what happens if there is an issue. Took long time, but said of course we want to involve child, but it's safety issue.

Home schooling--Chancellor and mayor said medically fragile children would be part of it. Didn't make sense at first. We were able to say they could be taught on 15-1 ratio remotely. We can perhaps expand it. 

More to come. We have special ed. issues. Will get info out as we have agreements.

Today was really good day. We will have tough days and things will go wrong. We have to help members. Worth it to keep constantly pushing. We saw political games in other cities. We want more testing. City says it's doing more than last year, but we have 3X as many people. What we will need is more testing teams. We need about 20 more. Has to start at elementary schools on weekly basis. Can't predict future, but hope we will get it. We have the most, but NYC doesn't have remote option like LA and Chicago. Was not free for all. Was criteria around it. We'll have to see attendance over next few weeks. 

If parents decide there's no way, can city just say they get no education for the year? We won't stand by for that. In that case, we will need a real remote option. First priority now should be monitoring, and pushing for weekly testing. Believe we'll have 75% of over 12 vaccinated this week. Today was relatively good because we were out there. 

Next week this board will be in person. You need to show proof of vaccine to enter. Will try next week. 

Spring break negotiation first arbitration we filed. On 27th we will find out when it's scheduled. 

Questions/ answers

Member quarantined but now unvaccinated can file for medical exemption on SOLAS. Questions can be directed to Mike Sill.

Where will staff go who has accommodations?

Most will go to non-classroom DOE facilities. Some will not be able to. Doctors will decide.

How is med. accommodation different from traditional?

Sill--City said there would be none. We said they didn't have authority to do blanket denials and exceptions. We asserted you have to offer reasonable and medically warranted exemptions.

Mulgrew--Not all leaves are the same. We're talking about COVID leaves, and hope we never need one again, but you'll have up to a year, and your job and benefits will be reserved. 

Last year, nurses weren't included. Will they be included this year?

Yes they will. This is for all UFT members. Accommodations will be limited to severely immunocompromised. 

Appears DOE changed pre-COVID policy demanding one formal and one informal observation. 

DOE cannot do that. Can only use what we have in contract for observations. We have no agreement otherwise this year. Contact us if this happens.

Will r and f be in contract negotiations?

Hopefully school gets organized quickly. We've extended reorganization to November 5. After we get through that we will put this together, and of course it will be rank and file. DOE didn't want to do digital agreement with us. Claimed they had right to mandate it. Digital work will be big part of negotiation.

Hearing that vaccinated members who test positive with no symptoms are expected to report and not quarantined. (See update at end of post, please.)

True, unless they show symptoms. Vaccinated people have less chance of getting sick. We agree with protocols in terms of quarantining right now. We know how to get through this. We get people vaccinated. As a union, we have done our job. That's a testament to the work that happened here. Ask that people respect one another. Some people are upset about whatever the city does. We will have debate about vaccine mandate and will try to take care of all members, vaccinated and unvaccinated. 

Upsetting when people attack their own union. Same people who paid for Janus are trying to get people to quit union. That's a line you don't cross. We could've jumped around and screamed, filed to go to court, and if we took those actions, everyone would have been put out on September 27 with nothing. Impact bargaining was the way to go. Some people have gone to other side, are not unionists, and work to hurt unions.

Thank you. What you did today was wonderful. Being reported everywhere. 

What's our position on mandated vaccines for 12 and over?

We don't have official position right now. As long as new strains come in, more actions will be taken. Like what Biden did. If I have to use money or legislation to push vaccination, I will do it. Of course some will disagree. We already have five mandated vaccines for school age children,. Mississippi has eight, but complains about COVID requirement. It is a state issue, and requires state approval. Hoping that third vaccine clarification comes soon.

Thanks again for all your work through August. See you 27th in person. 

UPDATE: I've received clarification from a UFT source: Vaccinated teachers EXPOSED to the virus but showing no symptoms do not have to quarantine. Vaccinated teachers who test positive DO have to quarantine.

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