Last updated August 31, 2021
The Fall semester presents a fluid and dynamic situation for health and safety. New questions and concerns will arise as the semester progresses, but please review this page carefully for answers to questions we currently know about. If your concern is not addressed here, or if you have additional comments or questions about health and safety, please email [email protected].
How is the union involved in Rutgers’ decision-making process for COVID-19 protocols?
Representatives of the CRU (Coalition of Rutgers Unions) have been attending weekly Health and Safety meetings with the Rutgers administration to flag issues and engage in ongoing discussions about how to keep worker safety centered in the university’s approach to the COVID-19 pandemic. We wish we could say that management consistently acted on our input, but we have approached these meetings with the goal of contributing to a safe and healthy Rutgers community.
We now know that COVID-19 is spread largely through airborne transmission. What is being done about air filtration and ventilation at Rutgers?
We have been requesting specific building-by-building information on ventilation and HVAC systems for many months now, but the administration has been dragging their feet. Recently, we got confirmation that the university will be granting access to work order checklists for each building and providing a list of buildings that are compatible with the use of MERV-13 filters (if buildings are equipped for this level of filtration, experts recommend a MERV rating of 13 or higher for reduced COVID-19 transmissibility). For more information on HVAC and ventilation, review the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences Worker Training Program (WTP) Fact Sheet.
What is the policy on testing and contact tracing for the Fall semester?
The administration has so far resisted calls to establish regular testing, including for vaccinated students and employees, to detect COVID cases in asymptomatic individuals. We know that the Delta variant can spread through this form of transmission, including to vulnerable members of our households, such as children under 12 who aren’t eligible to be vaccinated. We are demanding free weekly testing for everyone working or studying in person to guard against the spread of COVID to our families and communities.
Rutgers still has contact tracers and is still alerting what they define as “close contact” exposure to COVID-19, in accordance with CDC guidance. Unfortunately, the CDC defines exposure as “a minimum of 15 minutes within 6 feet of a person who has COVID-19, without appropriate protection.” The University provided more information on this in their “Navigating Our Classrooms and Student Spaces” document.
Under the current procedure, faculty will not be alerted to positive cases in their classrooms unless their interaction meets the above criteria. We have pushed back on this and will continue to do so. The university justifies not adopting a more conservative policy than the CDC by claiming it will open them up to potential liability concerns for non-compliance with the current standard of care.
I have a medical condition that puts me in the “high risk” or “immunocompromised” category, and I want to continue working remotely. What can I do?
You’re entitled to seek reasonable accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). At Rutgers, this requires you to submit an Accommodation Request Form and have your physician complete the Medical Inquiry Form and return it to Academic Labor Relations. Submitting a request does not guarantee that the university will grant a remote work accommodation, but they are legally required to engage in an interactive process to determine how the additional needs of employees with a disability or medical condition can be met while performing their work obligations. The university also faces the burden of proving that not granting an accommodation presents undue hardship to the department.
I have a spouse or child who is high risk, and I want to continue working remotely.
We have proposed a process to the university for those with vulnerable household members. Unfortunately, however, the administration is not under the same ADA obligations as it is for vulnerable employees. We hope that Rutgers will do the right thing to help its employees protect the lives of their family members, and we will keep you updated on our progress with this fight.
In the meantime, please contact your department with your concerns and requests for continued remote work. You can cite the University’s extended telecommuting relaxation policy, in effect through the end of the year.
I hope to continue working remotely to limit my exposure, as my children are under twelve and cannot be vaccinated.
You should contact your department with your concerns and request continued remote work, citing the University’s extended telecommuting relaxation policy, in effect through the end of the year.
However, the Rutgers administration has been clear that they do not want to grant remote requests on the basis of children being ineligible for vaccination. They have justified denials of such requests by citing the lowered risk of transmissibility due to the student vaccine mandate on all campuses and the fact that no New Jersey public schools offer remote options for the 2021–22 academic year.
I have been asked to report in person for meetings. Am I obligated to do so?
Rutgers has strongly discouraged in-person meetings. The Return to Rutgers Guide published by the university advises: “During your time on campus, you are encouraged to communicate with your colleagues and supervisors as needed by email, telephone, or other available technology rather than face-to-face.” We suggest that you cite this language and request another meeting format, such as Webex or Zoom. If your request to meet virtually is unreasonably denied, feel free to contact the union at [email protected] for additional support.
If the meeting truly requires in-person attendance, you should be masked and socially distanced, and consider conducting the meeting outside if appropriate and weather permits.
What enforceable protections are in place for a safe work environment?
Fortunately, the Rutgers AAUP-AFT agreement with the University already contains robust health and safety language. Article 20 ensures that “No negotiations unit member shall be required to work under conditions where there has been a determination, on a reasonable basis in fact, that those conditions pose an imminent danger to health and safety. It shall be the responsibility of the University to make such determinations as rapidly as possible.”
I have some concerns about COVID protocols at my work site. What are my options for reporting my concerns?
If you have concerns about your work site, the first thing you should do is contact the union and discuss your options with a member of the Contract Enforcement Team. There are several reporting avenues available, and the union can help you determine what may be most effective in finding a resolution. To contact a union representative, email [email protected].
Some of the reporting options include:
- If an Article 20 Health and Safety violation is identified, you may be able to file a grievance under the Article 9 grievance procedure.
- A Rutgers Observation Reporting Form can be submitted, by a named complainant or anonymously, directly to the university. You should submit this form to report any concerns at all, whether or not you also report these concerns to the union.
- A PEOSH (Public Employees Occupational Safety and Health) Complaint Form) can be submitted—by a named complaitant, anonymously, or by the union—directly to the Department of Labor.
Will vaccination be mandatory at Rutgers?
The university has mandated that all students who reside on campus or attend classes in person must be vaccinated, except those granted medical or religious exemptions. Governor Murphy recently signed Executive Order 253, which specifies that preschool through grade 12 personnel and public employees, including those of us working at Rutgers, must provide proof of vaccination or submit to weekly testing.
Back in the spring, our union’s Executive Council called on the university to require vaccination of everyone represented by our union, except those granted medical or religious exemptions. We made this proposal in writing to management weeks ago. Unfortunately, as of late August, the Rutgers administration has been slow to engage with us on a vaccination mandate for faculty and postdocs (TAGAs are covered by the university’s student mandate). We still hope to reach an agreement that covers the implementation of the state mandate and its impact on our members.
Are there job protections for anyone who requires time off because they have contracted COVID-19?
Under New Jersey law, employers cannot impose discipline or termination, nor subject an employee to any form of discrimination, if they require time away to quarantine or seek testing due to COVID-19. It is important to note that employees must be able to produce a note from a medical professional instructing them to quarantine or seek testing.
If I become ill with COVID-19, will I have to use my accrued paid time off (PTO)? What about if I need to care for a child or family member with COVID-19?
Many of the federal programs that supplemented income for an employee requiring time away from work due to COVID expired at the end of 2020. The current Rutgers policy requires an employee to use their own PTO (including, if applicable, sick time or sick leave, close ranks, and vacation) in the event of a required COVID leave. We are working with the administration to determine if an alternative policy can be reached. Federal policy may also change.
If you require time away from work to care for a family member, you can always take leave under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which provides for up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave. You can find out more about leaves in Article 16 of the Rutgers AAUP-AFT agreement with Rutgers. It’s possible you may also qualify for New Jersey’s Family Leave insurance program. The New Jersey Department of Labor has an online eligibility tool to determine what protections and benefits may apply to your circumstances.
What is the most effective mask to help prevent COVID-19 transmission in the classroom?
Look on the mask label for “ASTM 3502-21, Level 2.” Here is the guidance from the American Federation of Teachers:
The ASTM International, a professional voluntary standards organization has developed a research- based standard (Barrier Face Coverings—F3502-21) that can assist school staff, parents and students choose the most protective masks. These masks comfortably and snugly fit the wearer. They can effectively block the viruses of an infected person from escaping into the air. They also may protect the wearer from inhaling infectious particles. The ASTM standard requires mask manufacturers to obtain independent laboratory verification that their masks meet comfort (breathability) and filtration standards if the manufacturer wants to use the ASTM logo. ASTM 3502 masks have also been evaluated and found effective by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) – an agency of CDC. NIOSH has certified the following masks and will be updating their list on a regular basis.
How do I register for the COVID-19 vaccine?
Everyone 12 and older who lives, works, or studies in New Jersey is eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine. You can make an appointment or visit any of the state’s six mega-sites, which are all now taking walk-ins. Here is the walk-in vaccination schedule. Additionally, the NJ Vaccine Call Center offers live assistance. The number is 855-568-0545, it is open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. every day, and it is staffed with speakers of dozens of different languages.
For those seeking an appointment in New York, you can schedule an appointment here. You can also be vaccinated without an appointment by walking into any of the state-run vaccination sites. For those seeking an appointment in Pennsylvania, you can use this scheduling tool to make a vaccine appointment.
Can I get vaccinated on any of the Rutgers campuses?
See the following, taken from the Rutgers Universitywide Covid-19 Information page:
Rutgers is offering COVID-19 vaccination to students, faculty, staff, and others who have a Rutgers NetID. The Rutgers community may register for an appointment on the Rutgers COVID-19 vaccine portal. Rutgers also is offering vaccines to the public; contact the Vaccine Scheduling Assistance Program by calling 848-445-3033, Monday–Friday from 9 a.m.–5 p.m. for assistance in scheduling an appointment.
Appointments will be available at three campus locations:
Camden: Campus Center, Lower Level, 017J, 326 Penn St., Camden
Newark: Stonsby Commons, 91 Bleeker Street, Newark
Piscataway: Ernest Mario School of Pharmacy, 160 Frelinghuysen Road, Piscataway
Each location also has walk-in hours as follows:
Camden: Tuesday and Wednesday, 12 noon–2 p.m.,
Newark: Monday to Friday, 10 a.m.– 2 p.m.
Piscataway: Tuesday, 1–5 p.m.; Wednesday, 9 a.m.–1 p.m.; Thursday, 9 a.m.–5 p.m.; and Friday 9 a.m.–1 p.m. [Beginning September 7, the Piscataway location hours will be: Wednesday, 9 a.m.–1 p.m.; Thursday, 9 a.m.–5 p.m.; Friday 9 a.m.–3 p.m.]