WESTFIELD- Local 1111 fire union leader Keith Supinski thinks that an agreement can be signed soon to reestablish COVID-19 sick leave for city personnel who get sick on the job.
At the beginning of the Westfield Fire Commission meeting Feb. 11, Supinski said that Westfield’s first responders were not informed that their COVID sick leave would expire at the end of 2020 until Dec. 15. The COVID sick leave policy was established under the CARES Act passed by Congress in March in the outset of the pandemic, and it expired on Dec. 31.
Westfield’s new Personnel Director Robert Bishop, took over the role on Dec. 14 and informed city personnel of the impending change the following day.
“The federal act gave 80 hours of sick leave for COVID, but it expired Dec. 31,” said Bishop during the Fire Commission meeting, “Other municipalities in the area opted not to extend it, so we followed in kind.”
Bishop and Supinski said that they and the union leaders for Westfield’s police and dispatchers have been working together to draft a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) to reestablish COVID sick leave in some form.
Supinski said that the expiration of the policy came at a poor time for the fire department. In the days following New Year’s Day, four firefighters became sick with COVID-19. Because the policy had expired, the firefighters had to use their personal sick time instead. Two of the firefighters were veteran members of the department and had enough sick time accrued to remain home for the duration of their COVID-19 infection.
The other two firefighters are newer members of the department, and Supinski said they had virtually no sick time to use, and one of them is still not cleared to return to work and thus must burn through vacation days.
“If they don’t get back before March, they will need to have sick days donated to them,” said Supinski.
Supinski said the initial lack of communication was frustrating, as Westfield’s first responders were given little time to prepare, but he is pleased with how Bishop and the other union leaders are working together to resolve it. An exact date for the reintroduction of COVID leave has not been announced, but Supinski said he expects it to be backdated, at least to some extent.
“Robert is being very receptive,” said Supinski, “They’re just trying to get the right language to keep everybody happy.”