Educators at the HS of Economics and Finance in Lower Manhattan are facing threats to their pay for refusing to enter a building they say is not safe against COVID-19 infection and, instead, doing their jobs outside via mobile phones and laptops.
According to David Siroonian, the UFT chapter leader at the school, there has been little safety preparation and even less information for staff.
"The main issue is ventilation," Siroonian said. "We don't have windows in the classrooms, and the ventilation system is old."
The school was one of 22 New York City public schools unable to open for staff on Sept. 8. It was supposed to be ready for staff on Sept. 15, but Siroonian said educators have not received "any information" about what work has been done to address the issues that kept the doors closed for a week. He said the school also lacks personal protective equipment and has not yet held a COVID-19 Building Response Team meeting to determine procedures for responding to COVID cases, students coming in on days they aren't assigned and other potential challenges.
Wary of returning to an unsafe building, UFT members at the school held a virtual chapter meeting on Sept. 14 and decided to submit 16 questions to the administration that night, requesting answers about PPE, ventilation, temperature checks and other readiness measures flagged in the union's school safety report. They told the principal that they would work outside the building until they got answers.
The response from administration was, "We're gonna charge all of you a sick day or take the money out of your paycheck if you don't come in," said Siroonian. He said the administrators gave the staff a deadline of 1 p.m. on Sept. 15 to return to work inside the building before these threats would be carried out.
"The union came down and got them to admit they can't do that," said Siroonian. "They stood by us."
UFT President Michael Mulgrew said, "The educators from the HS of Economics and Finance are working on the sidewalk. They are ready. Their building is not."
UFT members at the school plan to continue to work remotely until they're assured it's safe to enter the building.
"We're going to work remotely, fulfill our duties to the school," said Siroonian, "but stay outside."