State Watch

NYC teachers union moves toward strike amid call for coronavirus testing requirement

The New York City teachers union moved toward a possible strike in a Monday night vote as union officials call for a coronavirus testing mandate for staff and students before they enter school buildings.

The United Federation of Teachers’ (UFT) 100-member executive board unanimously voted for a resolution requesting union officials continue to negotiate with the city to reach a safe reopening plan by Tuesday or bring a strike authorization vote to the delegate assembly, according to a press release

The delegate assembly, made of 3,200 members, will meet at 3:30 p.m. on Tuesday.

The authorization would permit UFT President Michael Mulgrew to declare a strike if he considers it necessary. New York City, which has the largest school district in the nation, has not seen a teachers strike since 1975, as public employee strikes are illegal. 

“We can’t afford to send students and staff back into any buildings until we have done everything possible — including a rigorous virus testing program — to see that they are safe,” Mulgrew said in a statement. “The members of the UFT know that public employee strikes are illegal, but we are determined to do what is necessary to protect our students and the families of New York City.”

Monday’s executive board vote comes after the union’s mid-August press conference, which called on city officials to postpone reopening in-person instruction until certain safety measures were taken, like obtaining more protective supplies and instituting a testing plan. 

Mulgrew said on Monday that he wouldn’t back down on the union demand for a testing mandate. 

But New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio (D) has labeled the union’s requests a stunt, saying a majority of parents want their children to return to school in person, according to The Wall Street Journal. The city’s Department of Education reported that data collected from family surveys thus far indicate 63 percent of students will return to in-person instruction.

City hall spokesperson Avery Cohen told the Journal that discussions with the union were ongoing.

“Together, we’ll continue to work towards the best possible plan to get our young people back to the classrooms where they learn best,” he said.

Ahead of the union vote on Monday, de Blasio said during a press briefing that the city looked into mandating testing but added that he thinks “for a variety of reasons, it is not the best way to get to where we need to go.” The mayor pointed out that the city provides free COVID-19 tests.

New York City’s school district is one of few in the country to offer some in-person instruction. The district will allow some students to learn remotely every day, while others can opt into a hybrid model of going to school part of the time.

New York City was hit hard by the coronavirus and was one of the first epicenters for the pandemic in March. Overall, the city saw 230,205 cases and 19,055 confirmed deaths since the beginning of the pandemic, according to city data.

Tags Bill de Blasio Coronavirus COVID-19 New York New York City Pandemic Reopening schools school reopening schools strike Teacher strike teachers teachers union Union United Federation of Teachers

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