Newton’s COVID-19 pandemic allowance for city workers excludes certain groups

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The allowances would be available to any eligible employee who complies with the policy.

“I am grateful to all of our union leaders who have spent many hours and days talking about this important workplace safety initiative,” Fuller said in the statement. “It was important to me as mayor to include our unions in conversations about the impact of this policy.”

Ninety-five percent of the city’s 884 municipal workers — including police — should be vaccinated, Fuller said. The rest will be exempted under the policy.

Fuller said the city has reached vaccination policy agreements with unions representing hundreds of city employees, including firefighters, nurses, city hall workers and senior police department officers, whose members will be eligible for allowances.

But the stipends will not be given to members of the Newton Police Association, according to Fuller, after she “chose not” to join other unions in reaching a similar deal with the city.

The stipend program also does not include Newton Public Schools, where the workforce was required to comply with school vaccination policy by Oct. 15. Under that policy, employees had to be vaccinated or given medical exemptions or an exemption for sincere religious belief, according to the school department.

The city has set Jan. 14 as the deadline for city unions to agree to the vaccination policy, Fuller said.

The stipends were included in agreements with city unions in recognition of the employees’ “commitment to public service and public health,” according to Fuller.

“I would like to be able to extend this allowance to all permanent employees of the city. However, collective bargaining laws do not allow the City to do this for members of the only union that has not reached an agreement with the City,” Fuller said, referring to the Newton Police Association.

Officer John Panica, president of the police association, said the union emailed Fuller regarding concerns about his statement announcing the allowances. He said union members have complied with the city’s COVID-19 policy. The police union represents about 104 members, according to the city.

“There was never any question of allocation. The allocation was raised by the city during the negotiation process for the [memorandum of agreement on the vaccine policy]said Panica in a brief statement to The Globe. “We seek protection regarding the health and safety of our members.”

Michael Zilles, president of the Newton Teachers Association, said he was asking Fuller and other school leaders to extend stipends to its members.

The teachers’ union represents about 2,000 educators and other school staff, and Zilles said its leaders have advocated for a vaccination mandate.

“We thought it was the right thing to do to protect our members, our students and the community of Newton,” he said of the appeal for a warrant. “We played a leading role in promoting a vaccination mandate for Newton employees.”

Fuller sits on the nine-member school board as mayor. The city, in a statement to The Globe, said a decision to offer similar allowances to school workers will be made by the school board and its collective bargaining team.

Tamika Olszewski, chair of the school committee, said in an email that the committee was reviewing allowances for school workers.

“The school board is working to assess the impact of awarding similar stipends to our employees, knowing that our district faces a difficult deficit projection against next year’s budget. The difficult question before the Committee is to what extent we can either make up this shortfall, get the allowances to our workers, or be able to achieve both,” Olszewski said.

Newton Public Schools received $3.2 million in federal assistance through the American Rescue Plan Act. Zilles noted that the city has received more federal aid than its school system and said the school board will need to work with Fuller’s office to expand allowances for school workers in the city.

Zilles said he asked Fuller for his leadership on the matter.

Union members should be recognized for working during the pandemic, he said. “They have been there for their students throughout this long and seemingly endless crisis. That’s what they should be rewarded for,” Zilles said.

Among Newton Public School employees, nearly all of the department’s 2,531 employees have complied with the vaccination mandate, according to department spokeswoman Julie McDonough. Sixteen workers quit their jobs because of the policy.

Of the school employees who complied with the vaccination policy, 11 were granted exemptions, McDonough said.

The city said of its 881 permanent employees, about 800 city workers are vaccinated against COVID-19, while about 40 others are in the process of being vaccinated or have a pending exemption request. Around 50 workers received an exemption from the vaccination requirement.

City employees in Newton who are not vaccinated must wear masks at work and undergo weekly COVID-19 tests, according to the policy.

According to the city, two city employees were fired because they failed to comply with the vaccine requirement. Four others chose to resign or retire because of politics, the city reported.

The agreements with unions would generally give an eligible employee a $1,500 allowance if they started working for the city before June 15, 2021, the city said. Eligible workers who started after that date would receive $250 or $500. Benefit amounts are pro-rated for part-time workers, the city said in a statement.


John Hilliard can be contacted at john.hilliard@globe.com.


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