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NYC Teachers Issue Strike Threat

The 75k union is willing to break the Taylor law to protect the students and teachers

Brian Young's picture
Aug 19, 2020

New York City is the only big school district in the country that is scheduled to reopen in September for in-person classes. While New York has one of the lowest transmission rates in the country, teachers are still worried that the City’s plan doesn’t go far enough to protect teachers.

UCOMM previously reported that the United Federation of Teachers (UFT), which represents 75,000 public school teachers, nurses, and support staff in New York City schools, informed the Mayor and Department of Education in early August that the current plan didn’t do enough to ensure that the spread of COVID-19 would be prevented and controlled. Since then the City has not made the changes needed to the reopening plan and the Principal’s union have requested that in-person classes be delayed.

With the city not listening, the UFT held a press conference on Wednesday. Flanked by medical experts, elected officials, and parent and community representatives, Union President Michael Mulgrew announced today a proposal for a sweeping program of safety reviews, testing protocols, and other features designed to protect the health of students and staff in reopening school buildings. The union also urged all parents to sign up for remote learning until the Department of Education notifies the parents that their children’s school meets their procedural and testing standards.

“While our members want to be back in their classrooms, the safety of our students, their families, and our staff comes first,” said Mulgrew. “Working with medical experts, we have created a set of health and safety standards we will apply to every building. Any school that fails to meet these guidelines should be off-limits to children, parents, and teachers until the problems are corrected.”

The union has already sent out 100 investigators who will be looking at all 1,400 schools to determine which ones meet the safety standards, including the presence of a school nurse, a six-foot separation between student desks, sufficient masks, and other protective equipment, working ventilation systems to reduce the concentration of air-borne virus particles, and an isolation/quarantine room for students who develop symptoms of infection. The union is also calling for a more comprehensive testing and tracing plan.

The union estimates about 750,000 children and staff will need to be regularly tested if New York City schools reopen. The district has about 1.1 million students. The union is also asking all teachers and students to get an antibody test and/or a COVID-19 test before entering school.

The union says that the Department of Education needs to do a lot more work before teachers will be ready to come back to school for in-person classes.

"We don't believe it is possible for schools to open on September 10," said Mulgrew. If schools do open, he warned, "It might be one of the biggest debacles in the history of the city."

So what happens if the Department of Education doesn’t meet these standards or a specific school doesn’t meet these standards? Mulgrew said that the union is prepared to take the ultimate step and strike. "The union is prepared to go to court and/or go on strike if we need to. Union receiving penalties, I go to jail, all of that," Mulgrew said. "We'll do it if we have to."

In New York, teachers are not allowed to strike thanks to the Taylor law. A strike by the UFT could lead to heavy fines as well as Mulgrew bring imprisoned.

With a few weeks to go until in-person classes are supposed to start in New York, both sides have some time to work out an agreement that protects the health and safety of the students and teachers. Especially as schools in the South and colleges reopen, New York has the benefit of seeing how other districts safely or unsafely opened and alter their plans accordingly.

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