Teachers Union Threatens 'Safety Strikes' Over Schools Reopening Plan

Teachers Union Threatens 'Safety Strikes' Over Schools Reopening Plan
A school bus in a file photo. (Paul J. Richards/AFP via Getty Images)
Bill Pan

The nation's second largest teachers union is telling its members to go on "safety strikes" if their school's reopening plan doesn't meet the group's safety requirements.

Randi Weingarten, the president of the 1.7 million member-strong American Federation of Teachers (AFT), announced on Tuesday that the union has passed a resolution affirming support for any local chapter that decides to strike over reopening plans that are deemed unsafe.

During an online AFT convention, Weingarten blamed the Trump administration for pressuring schools to reopen amid the ongoing pandemic, saying it has left teachers and parents "afraid and angry."

"If authorities don't protect the safety and health of those we represent and those we serve...nothing is off the table," she said. "Not advocacy or protests, negotiations, grievances or lawsuits, or, if necessary and authorized by a local union, as a last resort, safety strikes."

The AFT resolution calls on school districts to reopen only when the area's average daily community infection rate among those tested for COVID-19 is below 5 percent and the transmission rate is below 1 percent, a standard that could be difficult to meet. It also demands schools implement mandatory face covering for students and staff, 6-feet physical distancing, disinfection of facilities and buses, and special accommodations for teachers at greater risk of health problems if they contract COVID-19.
Weingarten also pledged to fight what the union considered "unsafe and unsound plans" through lawsuits and labor grievances. The AFT's Florida chapter filed a lawsuit last week against Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis in an effort to block the state's emergency order to reopen schools in August. DeSantis, in response, argued that he wanted to make sure families have the option if they decide in-person learning is best for their children.
The AFT resolution comes as the latest COVID-19 relief bill, proposed by the Senate Republicans, ties most of the relief fund to school reopening. A third of the $70 billion set aside for K-12 education would go to all public and private schools, regardless of their reopening plans in the fall. The remaining two-thirds, however, would be available "specifically to help schools with the additional costs to reopen for in-person instruction."

Weingarten decried the proposed bill, blaming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) for obstructing the plan proposed by House Democrats in May, which would allocate $100 billion for K-12 schools without limiting relief funds to those planning to offer in-person learning.

The AFT in March endorsed Joe Biden as the Democratic nominee for the 2020 presidential race. Biden has also received endorsement of the National Education Association, the nation's largest labor union.