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Chicago Sun Times- The picture above was taken during the 2019 strike

Chicago Teachers Covid Strike

With rise in COVID-19 deaths, union may walk to prevent in person classes from restarting

Brian Young's picture
Jan 22, 2021

When the 2019-2020 school year started in Chicago teachers began the year teaching remotely. At the beginning of 2021, some preschool and special education teachers were brought back for in-person classes. However, that move has caused an outbreak of COVID cases at 50 schools in the city. With 10,000 more teachers scheduled to return to the classroom on Monday, the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) is pushing to stop in-person classes until the City does more to protect teachers.

In an effort to protect their members, the 600 member House of Delegates voted to authorize all CTU members to continue working remotely on Monday, January 25th, when teachers in grades K through 8 are expected to return to in-person learning. The full membership is currently voting on the proposal which must get a majority of members supporting it before a job action can be taken.

“This is about a pandemic that has killed 400,000 Americans, and an overwhelming majority of our delegates are resolved to putting safety first and continuing to teach remotely,” CTU President Jesse Sharkey said. “In the absence of an actual commitment on safety from CPS leadership, the best assurance we have for the safety of our students and school staff right now is to continue remote learning.”

Members will vote on two questions: “In response to serious unfair labor practices and the lack of a safe reopening agreement, do you authorize the CTU to conduct remote work only, starting on January 25?” and “In addition, in the event that CPS retaliates against or locks out members as a result, do you authorize a strike?”

CTU last went on strike in 2019 before receiving a new contract. That agreement has in it a no strike clause for the length of the contract. Due to this the union is saying that they are not asking their members to strike, but to refuse to come to school for in-person classes. Instead, the teachers are being encouraged to continue teaching online next week.

“Our members are resolved to continue working, teaching their students and doing so safely,” President Sharkey added. “Only the mayor can force a strike, and if it comes to that, that’s her choice. We choose safety.”

According to the Chicago Sun-Times, both sides have been negotiating the reopening of schools for months but do not appear close to an agreement that the teachers believe would protect teachers’ health. The district is aiming to get 70,000 of their students back to in-person classes by February 1. Chicago schools have about 355,000 students in the district, so the vast majority of students are still planning to stay remote, likely for the rest of the year.

Medical consultant Dr. Vin Gupta, who CTU hired to advise them on medical issues related to schools reopening, said “CPS’ plans to reopen further simply make no sense and defy current science as the pandemic continues to rage.”

Unlike other states like New York where teachers are already being vaccinated, the Chicago School System announced on Friday that public school teachers will have to wait until mid-February before they can receive the vaccine.

Results from the member vote and a decision on whether there will be in-person classes will come on Sunday.

Since the outbreak, the union has had at least one member die from COVID-19.

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