Labor

Teachers eye strikes, protests if schools reopen without safety measures

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The nation’s two biggest teachers’ unions say they are prepared to call for strikes or pickets if states reopen schools without taking proper health precautions.

American Federation of Teachers (AFT) president Randi Weingarten told Politico that if schools are reopened without sufficient safety measures “you scream bloody murder,” adding, “And you do everything you can to … use your public megaphones.”

The National Education Association’s Lily Eskelsen García told the publication that teachers are united after years of strikes for more funding.

She later told The Hill her organization’s members are also concerned by the lack of educators on the White House’s reopening task force.

“These are businesspeople going how do we get those workers back,” she told The Hill. “There’s not one teacher who’s ever gone through rainy day recess to say ‘you cannot socially distance these kids in a classroom’.”

She added that a return to in-person learning must be based on specifically when medical experts deem it safe.

“We’re listening to the medical community, we’re not listening, and I hope no one is listening, to Donald Trump for medical advice, and you really shouldn’t listen to any politician who’s holding a finger to the wind and saying ‘how about Saturday?’” she told The Hill. “When [medical experts] get the evidence that convinces them, I’ll trust them before I trust the politicians.”

“The bottom line is when the people who know the names of the kids are part of designing the solution … they’re the ones who are going to be ready,” she added.

Although most governors have closed schools for the remainder of the academic year and no staggered reopening of businesses and services in states has involved reopening schools yet, President Trump reportedly urged some governors to reopen them. Federal guidelines call for reopening schools at governors’ discretion after a month of decreases in cases.

The United Federation of Teachers, the AFT’s New York City affiliate, has already launched a petition calling for criteria including widespread testing, protective gear, temperature checks and extensive tracing before schools can reopen.

“In places where there’s a strong commitment to worker voice, we’re going to get that and in places where there isn’t, we’re going to have to use all sorts of other vehicles, or what’s going to happen is the virus will reemerge,” Weingarten told Politico.

“There will probably be some instances where we will have to look at renegotiating contracts for teachers who may be asked to do some pretty heroic things to get those schools open,” Eskelsen García told Politico.

Thomas J. Gentzel, executive director and CEO of the National School Boards Association, said issues with collective bargaining are likely in a scenario where the school year is extended due to the pandemic.

“Even in districts where the relationship between the administration and the union is generally pretty good, there can still be disagreements about what the terms of the collective bargaining agreement mean,” he said, according to Politico.

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