The UFT’s fight with the DOE over compensation for members who worked over the 2020 spring break ended in January when an independent arbitrator ruled that UFT members will receive one vacation day for each day they worked during what should have been paid time off. Since vacation days are a new type of benefit that UFT members have never had before, and eligible members were to receive their days on Feb. 1, we have compiled the following FAQ to answer common questions.
How can I use vacation days?
You can use them any way you want. You do not need to disclose the reason for your absence. You could go to the beach, take a long weekend or do anything you’d like on your vacation days. These days do not have to be used for sick time or preapproved business, as with CAR days.
How do I schedule the use of these vacation days?
It’s best to notify your principal by email that you would like to take a vacation day. We recommend you submit this request as early as possible, but the arbitration decision says that vacation days must be scheduled no later than 10 days before the date you’d like to take off.
Do I have to use all my vacation days at once?
No. You have the choice to use the days consecutively or to spread these days out over time, including into future school years. You also have the option to hold on to some or all of your vacation days and collect pay for them at the time you resign or retire.
Are there any dates when I can’t use a vacation day?
There are no dates that automatically cannot be used. But there may be some dates for which the principal determines there is a “compelling reason” not to allow you to take a vacation day.
What happens if a principal denies my request for a vacation day?
The arbitration decision says that if a supervisor has a “compelling reason” to deny the vacation day, you must be notified in writing no later than 48 hours after your request and the reason for the denial must be explained. The DOE and the UFT will be notified of the denial. At that point, the DOE must consult with a UFT representative within 48 hours of the denial. If the UFT does not think there is a compelling reason for the denial, either the vacation day will be scheduled as originally requested or an expedited arbitration process will be used to resolve the dispute.
What happens if a lot of staff wish to schedule the same vacation time?
Certain days are sure to be popular for use as vacation days, including days just before or after a regularly scheduled break. The arbitration ruling says that proximity of a vacation day to a holiday or break is not reason alone to deny a request, but the principal has the right to deny requests if more than a reasonable number of people have applied for the same time. Staff will be approved on a first-come, first-served basis until the principal believes that the school cannot make do with any fewer staff. The principal will use seniority to determine which requests to approve only if multiple staffers put in for the same vacation days on the same day. Otherwise, it is first-come, first-served.
Here’s an example: On the first day of the next school year, 15 UFT members in one school all put in a request to use three vacation days for the three days before Thanksgiving. The principal must approve the requests of a reasonable number of staff in seniority order. Those staff members whose requests were denied will have access to the expedited arbitration process if they believe the principal did not have a compelling reason to deny the request. If the denial is upheld in the expedited arbitration process, these members will be able to schedule vacation days for a different time.
Which type of seniority is being used as a tiebreaker?
Citywide excessing seniority will be used.
Is there a maximum number of people who can be scheduled for the same period of vacation time?
No, the standard that the arbitrator used is a “reasonable” number. In cases where there is a dispute about this reasonable number, the UFT can take the case to expedited arbitration.
What happens to unused vacation days?
Unused vacation days do not expire. When you retire or resign, vacation days can be cashed in on a one-for-one basis, at the value of a day’s pay according to your salary at the time you leave your DOE employment. Someone who retires 10 years from now could get greater value when cashing in vacation days, since they would most likely be earning a higher salary rate at that time.
Can these days be used as part of discipline for absences?
No. The arbitration explicitly says that no employee will be subject to discipline for the use of vacation days.
I worked seven days in the 2020 spring break, but I didn’t receive seven vacation days from the DOE. What can I do?
Members with low CAR balances were shortchanged. The DOE only converted CAR days that employees had in their banks on Feb. 1. If employees had at least four CAR days, they got four CAR days converted to four vacation days. If they had only three CAR days, they got three converted to vacation days, and so forth.
The UFT disagrees with the DOE’s interpretation of the arbitrator’s decision. Its position is that members are owed a vacation day for each day they worked during the 2020 spring break and should not be penalized for having a lower CAR day balance due to parental leave or illness. The union is fighting to get those members the full value of the time worked and has asked the arbitrator to intervene in the dispute.
Am I responsible for preparing lesson plans for my students on vacation days?
The arbitration ruling does not address this topic. The union is seeking more clarity from the arbitrator about the scope of members’ responsibilities in that regard.
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.