Pritzker signs legislation allowing special pay for vaccinated school employees absent due to COVID
SPRINGFIELD (WGEM) - Vaccinated employees at Illinois public schools, public universities, and community colleges will not have to use paid sick leave if they must miss work due to COVID-19 complications. Gov. JB Pritzker signed the plan into law Tuesday morning.
Pritzker said this law can help any vaccinated staff from teachers to administrators and bus drivers.
A similar plan for all teachers and staff passed out of both chambers with strong bipartisan support last year. Although, Pritzker vetoed that plan and worked with the Illinois Federation of Teachers and the Illinois Education Association to improve language including the vaccine requirement.
“There obviously were teachers very interested in what the outcome of this would be,” Pritzker said Tuesday. “But most importantly, this is about public health from my perspective - making sure that we’re doing the right thing for the teachers, for the schools, for the communities that those teachers represent and work in.”
The legislation began as a way to help many who had to miss work if they contracted COVID-19 or had to take care of relatives who did. This law also secures paid administrative leave for vaccinated staff who become close contacts or start to have COVID symptoms.
Many could also have their sick leave restored if they used their time already. Angela Bulger explained she can get 11 days back thanks to the law. The paraprofessional for Central School District 104 in O’Fallon, Illinois started her job in August of 2021.
Bulger missed eight days of work after she and her daughter contracted COVID-19. Any additional days missed could have meant a cut in pay since Bulger couldn’t accrue more sick days during her first year in the role.
“Because of this new law, when I have to miss school to keep students safe and prevent the spread of COVID, I don’t also have to worry about how I will pay my bills or if I need to think about finding a different job,” Bulger said.
She thanked the IFT for working on the legislation to help members. IFT President Dan Montgomery said teachers, school staff, and their families have been on the frontlines of the pandemic’s effects from the start.
“Our north star has been how do we keep people safe? How do we keep schools open and in-person safely,” Montgomery said. “And how do we care for the children and their families in our charge?”
Montgomery thanked Pritzker and legislative leaders for prioritizing safety and vaccines in this plan.
The plan also protects any employees who missed work if their school was closed or classes moved to virtual learning, causing them to go without pay. This law allows anyone with religious or medical exemptions from COVID-19 vaccines to get paid administrative leave.
Unvaccinated staff have five weeks from Tuesday to get vaccinated and still receive benefits from the law. Yet, Senate and House Republicans voted against the proposal because they felt it discriminated against people who don’t want to get vaccinated.
“We are making sure that those who are making the right decisions are getting the benefits of this bill,” said Rep. Janet Yang Rohr (D-Naperville). “So I’m very proud of this legislation.”
Senate President Don Harmon was also a lead sponsor of the proposal in his chamber. Harmon stressed school employees shouldn’t lose sick days or pay for doing the right thing and getting fully vaccinated. He also thanked the governor for bringing stakeholders back to work on a common-sense bill.
“I think this is an excellent example of how the legislative process works,” Harmon said. “We always try to seek agreement. Sometimes we do it before we pass a bill the first time. Other times that happens later. I applaud the governor for bringing everyone to the table and reaching an agreement.”
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