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Union wins spring break 2020 fight

Arbitrator rules members to receive ‘vacation days’ for days worked
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In a decision that UFT members have been waiting for since the early days of the pandemic, an independent arbitrator ruled on Jan. 5 that members will receive a vacation day — a brand-new type of day — for each day they worked during the 2020 spring break.

Members were ordered to work remotely from Thursday, April 9, through Friday, April 17, during the scheduled spring recess, when the mayor required schools to continue instruction amid the height of the first COVID-19 wave in New York City. The city Department of Education gave members CAR days as compensation for four of those seven workdays, which the UFT argued was not sufficient.

“We all lost a vacation in 2020, and vacation time was what we are owed — not sick (CAR) time as the DOE argued in the arbitration,” UFT President Michael Mulgrew said in a letter to members following the ruling. “The union was able to get the arbitrator to see it from our point of view.”

The arbitrator ruled that a vacation day can be used on any workday of the school year. A vacation day may be used any way a member wishes to use it, and members can take these days either one at a time or consecutively without fear of disciplinary action.

Vacation days are to be granted, unless a principal has a “compelling reason” to refuse the request.

Even if many members in a school request the same day, vacation days must still be granted to a reasonable number of staff in seniority order among those who requested it, according to the ruling. Also, the proximity of a requested vacation day to a holiday or school recess cannot by itself be a compelling reason for refusal.

The arbitrator has instructed the DOE to credit these new vacation days to members effective Feb. 1. Members will only be given vacation days for the days they actually worked. The four CAR days that members received will automatically be converted to vacation days.

A vacation day is worth the full monetary value of a workday. When a UFT member leaves service or retires, vacation days will be paid out at a rate of one vacation day for one full day. Members can choose, therefore, between taking their vacation time or being paid at the end of their DOE career for those days.

The union filed a grievance on July 1, 2021, when the DOE-UFT grievance process resumed operation for the first time since the pandemic. The two sides held a Step 2 hearing on Sept. 28, 2021, on the grievance. The dispute proceeded to arbitration, with a hearing before the independent arbitrator on Dec. 15.

In the letter to members, Mulgrew praised the UFT Grievance Department and its representatives “for their work on this case,” and also thanked members for their “patience while this case worked its way through the process.”

For more information, see the spring break arbitration FAQ.