Pritzker vetoes paid COVID leave for school and university employees

SPRINGFIELD — Gov. JB Pritzker on Monday vetoed a bill that would have provided paid administrative leave for public school and university employees who miss work due to COVID-19-related concerns and instead negotiated “compromise” legislation that would grant such leave only to those who are fully vaccinated.

“Vaccines are an essential tool in preventing the deadly effects of COVID-19, and those who take the steps to be fully immunized against this virus are doing their part to keep everyone safe,” Pritzker said in his message of veto. “They deserve to be able to take the time they need to respond to the devastating effects the COVID-19 pandemic continues to have on them and their families.”

House Bill 2778 passed the General Assembly in the fall veto session with large bipartisan majorities, 53-1 in the Senate and 92-23 in the House.

It would have provided paid leave to any employee, including support staff and contractors, who were absent from work because they or a member of their household had contracted COVID-19, if they themselves or a member of their family had been forced to stay at home because they had been in close contact. with someone who had tested positive, or if they couldn’t work because the school building was closed due to COVID-19.

To be eligible, however, the bill provided that the employee must either have been vaccinated or have participated in the COVID-19 testing program provided by the district.

In September, Pritzker released a Executive Decree requiring school personnel to be vaccinated or undergo weekly testing. But his veto action on Monday means those who choose not to get vaccinated will not be eligible for paid administrative leave.

Since that bill passed, however, Pritzker said he has been negotiating with teachers’ unions and other groups to negotiate a different package with a stronger vaccine requirement.

“Many organizations are affected by this legislation, and my administration has listened carefully to all of them, including lawmakers and our partners at the Illinois Education Association and the Illinois Federation of Teachers, parents, school districts, community colleges and universities,” he said. in his veto message. “Through a collaborative and cooperative process, we have negotiated an initiative that will provide paid administrative leave to teachers who, despite doing all they can to keep themselves and their communities safe, continue to see their lives and their livelihoods disrupted by COVID-19.

Under the initiative, which has yet to be approved by lawmakers, public school and university employees would receive paid administrative leave if they are fully immunized and they or their child are to be excluded from school due to a positive COVID-19 test or have been in close contact with someone who has a confirmed case of COVID-19.

It also maintains wage protections in HB2778 for all hourly school employees — including janitors, bus drivers, food service workers, classroom assistants and administrative staff — who miss work because that the school building to which they are assigned is closed due to a COVID-19 outbreak. This protection would be retroactive for the entire 2021-2022 academic year.

“Keeping schools open and the safety of those in them – and their families – has been our number one priority since the start of the pandemic,” IEA President Kathi Griffin said in a press release. . “We want people to stay home when they are sick, to be able to care for their children when they need it most and to be paid when the circumstances that lead to the closure of their buildings escape totally in their control.

“The pandemic has been a physical, emotional and economic challenge for all of us, and certainly no less for educators, school staff and their families,” said IFT President Dan Montgomery. “This legislation provides significant relief and ensures that education staff can afford to take time off if they or their family become ill with COVID.”

Capitol News Illinois is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news service covering state government and distributed to more than 400 newspapers statewide. It is funded primarily by the Illinois Press Foundation and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation.

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