Port Authority employees criticize COVID-19 sick leave

PATH Labor Coalition calls 10-day limit retribution

As the Port Authority copes with COVID-19, employees say the agency is limiting employee sick days.
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As the Port Authority copes with COVID-19, employees say the agency is limiting employee sick days.

Port Authority workers have criticized a new agency policy which would permit them only 10 paid sick days to recover from the COVID-19 virus, dubbing it a “clawback” policy.

This comes after the PATH agreed to COVID-19 testing for employees last week.

In a press release the PATH Labor Coalition, which represents roughly 1,000 employees on the bi-state railway system, took exception to the policy calling it retribution for workers demanding COVID-19 testing be provided to all employees.

“This new clawback policy is pure retribution and nothing more than a payback from the Port Authority,“ said PATH Labor Coalition President Joseph Dominiczak. “They finally give us adequate testing with one hand and bury a knife in our backs with the other. We demand that this heartless and dangerous new policy be rescinded immediately.”

10 days to recover

According to the press release sent on behalf of the PATH Labor Coalition, employees used to have unlimited time off to recuperate after testing positive for COVID-19.

Now, after the 10-day COVID-19 sick leave, employees would have to use their vacation days to recover. If they don’t have any, then they won’t be paid at all and may even see deductions in future paychecks according to the PATH Labor Coalition.

The new policy may catch several employees off guard, because PATH made the policy retroactive with an April 17 start date, meaning anyone who had taken more than 10 days to recover from the virus which has claimed the lives of over 100,000 U.S. residents as of May 28, may now be left without pay if they used all their vacation time.

Nine PATH engineers who were stricken by the virus and took more than two weeks to recover are now losing their sick and vacation days retroactively, according to the Vice Chairman of Local 497 Art Blakey.

“This is a terrible way to treat these essential front-line workers, real heroes who put their lives on the line to serve the public,” said Blakely. “Changing the policy after they got sick is a real cheap shot.”

According to Thomas Malone of SMART Tower operators Local 1430, the new PATH policy is also a danger to riders and the public at large because operators may return to work before they are well.

“Some employees may have to choose between returning to work too soon and losing money they need to feed their families,” Malone said. “This vengeful, mean-spirited and dangerous decision must be overturned.”

 Unaware of a problem

At a press conference on May 21, a reporter asked Port Authority Executive Director Richard Cotton about the policy change regarding COVID-19 sick days, noting that previously employees did not have a limit.

Cotton said he wasn’t aware of a policy change.

“I’m not aware of any change, but we’ll certainly look into it and get back to you,” he said.

The Port Authority did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment on the policy change and the employees’ critiques.

For updates on this and other stories check www.hudsonreporter.com and follow us on Twitter @hudson_reporter. Marilyn Baer can be reached at Marilynb@hudsonreporter.com.