The coalition of unions representing workers at the Port Authority Trans-Hudson rail line are blasting the agency's decision to discontinue granting unlimited leave for those who contract the coronavirus.
The roll-back of sick time for the 1,000 PATH employees came even as the agency agreed to the PATH Labor Coalition's demand that it provide COVID-19 testing, which had been in place for weeks at the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and New Jersey Transit.
Must Use Other Leave
According to the coalition, PATH workers will have to use their own sick and vacation days if they need more than 10 days to recover. If they use up that leave, they won't be paid for missed days and could even see money deducted from future paychecks.
In an interview, PATH Labor Coalition President Joseph Dominiczak said that management had made the change retroactive to April 17, catching employees by surprise.
"This new claw-back policy is pure retribution and nothing more than a payback from the Port Authority," he said. "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 We demand that this heartless and dangerous new policy be rescinded immediately."
Mr. Dominiczak added that the issue of sick time was further complicated by the reality that PATH workers who brought the virus home to their families were not permitted to return to their jobs as long as other household members had the virus.
"So, imagine that you bring this home to your spouse, and they get you well and get sick themselves and you're docked pay until they are better," he said.
PA Not Talking
A Port Authority spokesperson did not respond to an email on the coalition's concerns.
PATH workers can be tested at Agile Urgent Care & Accurate Diagnostics at locations in East Rutherford, Somerset and Sewell.
On the New York side of the Hudson, testing sites are available in all five boroughs, Nassau, Suffolk, Westchester and Rockland counties.
At the May 21 PA monthly meeting, held virtually, Executive Director Rick Cotton was asked about his agency's reversal on unlimited sick time by a reporter and said he "was not aware" of the change but would look into it.
Art Blakey, the vice chairman of Local 497, said nine PATH engineers who were stricken by the disease and took more than two weeks to recover were losing sick and vacation days retroactively.
"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," Mr. Blakey said in a statement. "Changing the policy after they got sick is a real cheap shot."
Thomas Malone, general chairman of the SMART Tower Operators Local 1430, said the reversal was bad public-health policy because it pressured members to return to work before they were completely over the virus, putting riders as well as co-workers at risk.
"Some employees may have to choose between returning to work too soon and losing money they need to feed their families," he said.
The coalition of unions has yet to get be apprised as to whether the PA will follow the precedent set by the MTA when it agreed with Transport Workers Union Local 100 to provide a $500,000 death benefit from workers who died during the pandemic. The size of that benefit had been doubled under a contract deal approved last December, before coronavirus sent potential costs soaring.
Robert Elijah, 61, who was a PATH Power Rail Mechanic for 19 years died on April 23 from COVID-19. He was a member of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 864.
That is one of eight PATH unions working under contracts that expired in 2011 and 2012, without a raise since. The unions are covered under the National Railway Labor Act and their contracts don't lapse, remaining in effect until a new pact is reached.
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