Despite the urging of Illinois educators and strong bipartisan support from lawmakers, Gov. J.B. Pritzker said he plans to veto a bill that would grant school employees administrative leave for COVID-19-related sick days for themselves and their children.
In a letter to the leaders of the state’s two largest teachers unions, the Illinois Education Association and the Illinois Federation of Teachers, Pritzker said, “I have been very clear in stating that I will veto HB2778.”
“While that continues to be my plan, I have also said that I agree with and support the purpose of the bill: keeping teachers and students safe and in school during this unprecedented global pandemic,” Pritzker said.
The School Employee Benefit and Wage Protection bill, which passed with strong bipartisan support from lawmakers in October, was championed by the state’s teachers unions, who said school employees with young families were being forced to use all of their sick days if they or their children contracted the virus or were required to quarantine.
While the bill has languished on the governor’s desk, Pritzker on Tuesday urged proponents of the legislation to work with him “to address concerns voiced not only by my administration, but by local school districts, community colleges and universities across the state.”
Pritzker was slated to discuss the issue late Friday with union leaders including IEA President Kathi Griffin, who prior to the meeting said she hoped they could come to a resolution.
If the bill is signed into law, it would require that COVID-19 administrative days be provided to any public school or college employee to be used for all virus-related absences, including illness and quarantining.
The bill also provides paycheck protection for hourly employees, who would still receive their full paycheck if a school or higher education institution has to close because of a COVID-19 emergency.
Opponents of the bill said last fall they fear its passage would have the potential to magnify an increasingly critical staff shortage at schools, and above all, could remove the incentive for educators to get vaccinated.
But IEA spokeswoman Bridget Shanahan said Friday “the benefit and wage protection provided by the bill only applies to education employees who are following the governor’s executive order, which means it would pertain to those who are vaccinated and those who are testing.”
“We know school districts are sending people home, forcing them to take unpaid time off, because they’re out of sick time and need to quarantine,” Shanahan said. “We are in the middle of an education employee shortage. We don’t have enough adults in our schools. Who is going to want to work in schools when they’re forced to take unpaid days off to keep students safe?”
She said school districts could tap into the $7 billion in federal pandemic relief funds afforded to Illinois schools to help cover the costs of the administrative days that employees would be allowed to use under HB 2778 for the absences.
The money “is intended to help school districts keep students and staff safe,” Shanahan said. “The bottom line is quarantining helps stop the spread of COVID.”
Dan Montgomery, president of the IFT, who also was expected to huddle with Pritzker late Friday, said the teachers union “has tremendous faith in the governor.”
“All along, he has done a great job following the science and public health recommendations, so I hope we can resolve this issue,” Montgomery said. “We need to keep people working, and keep schools open, and that’s just what we’re doing.”
Illinois state Sen. Cristina Pacione-Zayas, a Democrat from Chicago, and one of the bill’s co-sponsors, said she was “perplexed” by the governor’s reluctance to sign the legislation, especially as the Illinois State Board of Education is requiring all schools are fully reopened for in-person instruction.
“If we’re requiring people to be in person in school buildings when there’s still quite a bit of activity with the virus, teachers should not have to dip into their sick leave or lose pay, especially when hopefully, we’ll only need this law for a finite period of time,” Pacione-Zayas said.
“Some have suggested that teachers should work this out with their employer. But if the state is saying teachers have to go back in person, teachers shouldn’t have to rely on local decisions about whether they’re going to get paid,” she said.
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via The Southern
January 15, 2022 at 12:28PM