Teachers union authorizes strikes if schools reopen without certain safety measures
The American Federation of Teachers (AFT), the nation’s second-largest teachers union, said it will back members to go on strike because of unsafe working conditions in schools due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The AFT said striking should be a “last resort” but demanded several safeguards before schools fully reopen.
The safeguards, according to the union, should include comprehensive contact tracing in areas where classes resume, mandatory masking and updated ventilation systems in facilities, The New York Times reported.
“We will fight on all fronts for the safety of our students and their educators,” AFT President Randi Weingarten said at the union’s annual convention, held online this year due to the pandemic.
Weingarten noted government assistance to the cruise and hedge fund industries during the pandemic, saying that if the federal government could provide such aid, “they sure as hell can help working families, and can help educators ensure our kids get the education they need.”
The restrictions are not as strict some activists have called for, like only reopening schools after 14 days of no new cases in a region, according to the Times.
As the White House has pushed aggressively for all schools to resume normal operations in the fall, teachers’ unions have said hundreds of billions of dollars are needed for the necessary safety measures.
The relief package introduced by Senate Republicans this week is substantially less than the amount Democrats and labor leaders called for and would provide $70 billion to K-12 schools but on the condition that schools at least partially reopen in the fall.
The AFT has said it will leave the decision to strike up to local chapters, one of which, the Florida Education Association, has already sued Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’s (R) administration over its plan to fully reopen schools in the state. Hundreds of teachers in the state, where cases are surging, have reportedly requested living wills.