Union updates — week of 3/29/2020

1.               Our #1 concern right now is still safety:

    • Are all non-essential staff now working from home?
    • Are essential staff working at the workplace only for minimal shifts and only for critical operations (and working from home for the non-critical tasks when practicable according Governor Murphy’s Executive Order 107)?
    • When in the workplace, are essential staff provided proper disinfecting supplies, protective equipment and distancing measures that adhere to Executive Order 107?

If you or a colleague cannot answer “yes” to any of these questions, please report a violation to the State of New Jersey and notify us at union@ura-aft.org immediately. Rutgers has failed to provide us with a comprehensive list of all staff who are deemed “essential” and performing critical operations in the workplace. Therefore, we depend on you to self-report any instance of a violation immediately.

2.               Coronavirus cases at Rutgers

Executive VP, Tony Calcado, informed us that no announcements will be made about new instances of positive virus cases in Rutgers buildings. We find this to be very irresponsible, and it puts the community’s safety at risk. It also may prevent you from applying for COVID-19 paid leave and seeking medical guidance. Again, we depend on members informing us of new cases as soon as possible.

3.               Emerging essential staff issues

Most of our essential staff are located in IPO, Dining and Residence Life, and in critical research labs. There are currently about three thousand students still housed on campus who have no other place to go. We received word that other students are now being allowed to come back onto campus to collect personal items that were left behind. We are concerned about how this affects our union members who work in Residence Life and Housing. It should be done with a reduced schedule and proper safety protocols for entering buildings after/with students. We are also receiving reports that staff who are managed by our members in IPO have already begun testing positive for the virus. We advise our members to refer these workers and yourselves immediately to the Occupational Health Department at Rutgers and to apply for COVID-19 paid leave.

4.               Timesheets, telework and COVID-19 paid leave

Rutgers’ expansion of telework and special paid leave allows for a mixture of safety, job continuity and sustained income—our most important goals. This is a good thing. Everyone, including essential staff, is eligible to apply and must work remotely when practicable. Everyone must apply. Rutgers must still negotiate with us about its approval processes, documentation requirements, and similar rules that are unfair and burdensome. Until then, see our best practices for how to utilize these programs and fill out timesheets. We encourage you to combine telework with paid leave to arrange a reduced or alternate schedule with your supervisor.

5.               COVID-19 issue survey

By now you should have received an online survey via email. Please fill it out right away if you have not yet done so. If you did not receive it, please email us at union@ura-aft.org to request the link.

6.               Negotiating with Rutgers

We are meeting with Vivian Fernandez, Tony Calcado and other Rutgers officials on a weekly basis along with other representatives from other Rutgers unions. We will provide you with updates as we go along. We intend to negotiate over things like pay for essential staff, vacation carryover rules, new employee orientation, processing contractual grievances, and the many other working conditions that have been impacted or may be impacted as a result of the pandemic and Rutgers’ handling of it thus far.

Update on COVID-19 Issues

Revised 3/29/2020

Rutgers’ expansion of telework and special paid leave allows for a mixture of safety, job continuity and sustained income—our most important goals. This is a good thing.

On the other hand, we already announced to you that Rutgers’ methods in administering them are unduly burdensome and were not negotiated with Rutgers unions.

We will take action to fight back on the unfair rules, but we also need to prioritize based on time and safety. This helps our union representatives act quickly for the most critical concerns. Please keep these things in mind:

PRIORITY #1 – your safety, job continuity and pay

Every non-essential worker should be home now, whether for telework, paid leave or a combination of both. While we understand Rutgers’ announced rules for requesting and documenting are unfair, report back to us IMMEDIATELY if you are:

  1. Non-essential staff mandated to return to the workplace,
  2. Essential staff mandated to return to work for non-essential reasons (i.e. different from the Governor’s list) or to an unsafe or unprotected workplace,
  3. refused telework,
  4. refused pay,
  5. refused paid leave,
  6. required to work outside your normal hours to “make up” lost time (e.g. told to work all night in exchange for your paid leave during the day),
  7. mandated to use your own paid time off,
  8. threatened with disciplinary action, pay docking or similar form of retaliation.

Only report these to us now if you get an actual negative decision or directive. Otherwise, keep requesting, emailing and pushing through the administrative stuff until you get a definitive YES or NO from management. Stay home under all circumstances and while you are corresponding with management.

PRIORITY #2 – Everything else

Document everything and forward your concerns to us when you can. We will be fighting Rutgers on the legal front, collective action and through negotiations for a while. Put all requests to Rutgers and your supervisors in writing. Save all copies. Keep a careful log of everything said and done from now on and be ready to share it with us.

In the meantime, here are some best practices for dealing with the RU screw:

1. Be proactive and arrange a reduced schedule with your manager – Try to always be “available to work” from home, if possible, during your regular hours. Make it known to your supervisor. However, if you truly cannot work a full day because of illness or childcare, consider working only a partial work day and charge the rest to paid COVID-19 related leave. As long as you are paid for a full day’s work, it can be broken up between COVID-19 leave and telework. Managers need to be flexible to your family and safety needs. And you need to be flexible to adapt to a new work environment. It is a team effort—communication is key.

2. TimesheetsLack of work? — Make sure you always write “available to work” on your daily work plan. It means you are available to take calls, respond to emails, receive supervisor directives—it is work. Do not volunteer to go back to the office to get work. Instead, your manager must realize that some typical work time and tasks will be lost due to self-isolation needs—we are all adapting. Get creative and proactive with your work tasks. Take online training, build your skills or other self-paced work when you cannot perform regular work tasks. Call a colleague or client to talk about a project. These can be reported on your time sheet.  We recommend that you report blocks of time larger than 15 minutes increments on the sheets.

3. Agree to disagree when it comes to using your own paid time off (PTO)- Do not actually agree to charge any COVID-19 related absence to your own PTO (i.e. your V, S, PH or AL time) other than NJESL. Just agree to disagree. If your supervisor demands that you do or threatens you, contact us immediately. We are fighting Rutgers’ illegal rules for documentation and denials. We can help you later to recover your PTO if you keep careful documentation, especially if it is charged without your agreement.

4. Essential staff who still report to the workplace – do not agree to work under unsafe or unprotected conditions. All personal protective equipment and recommended safety guidelines must be followed. Otherwise, object to the work for safety reasons. Do not refuse to work, but simply state that you cannot work until it is safe. You should also consider isolating at home based on the Governor’s guidelines if/until it is safe to report back to the workplace. Do not agree to return to campus for non-essential tasks. Only essential jobs actually performing essential tasks under safe conditions should be required. Everyone, including essential staff, is eligible to apply and must work remotely when practicable. Everyone must apply according to the Governor’s Executive Order 107.

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When we work together, we can win!

By order of Governor Phil Murphy, all libraries and computer labs at public and private colleges and universities are closed.  

This order went into effect on March 20, 2020 at 8pm.

Thank you for your continued advocacy on behalf of yourselves and your colleagues. Designated non-essential library staff were directed to continue to come to work and operate as business as usual and putting their lives at risk. With pressure put on administration with the Rutgers Coalition of Unions, we have increased protections for the health of staff and their families.

This is when solidarity matters most. When members work together for common goals, we make things happen! Union members have power to enact changes in our working conditions. If you’re not a member yet, please join now.

In Solidarity, Christine

Please note our new address:
URA-AFT, 75 Raritan Ave. Suite 255
Highland Park, New Jersey 08904

We can still be reached by phone at 732–745-0300, or email at union@ura-aft.org

Join the URA now.

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