Paid time off for all Illinois workers; free COVID-19 testing for students and families in need; meals for quarantined low-income students; mandatory deep cleaning at schools and public places; policies to tackle the digital divide for students. These are some of the demands CTU and its allies laid out just days before schools and many government agencies closed to stem the spread of coronavirus.
But the Union’s demands are not designed simply to mitigate the impact of the current COVID-19 threat. They are about beginning to rebuild the social safety net for our students and families that has been decimated by right-wing, anti-government austerity measures of the last decades.
As the virus threat spread like wildfire across the region — including in two Chicago public schools that we know of — CTU and others urged Mayor Lightfoot to close schools. She refused, but, fortunately, Governor Pritzker stepped in, ordering all Illinois schools closed for two weeks beginning March 17. School closures have now been extended until April 21.
While teachers and other school staff will be paid during the shutdown, other Chicago workers are not so lucky. Restaurants, bars and entertainment venues were shuttered, leaving their mostly low-wage workers with few benefits, hastening the need for paid leave during the public health crisis. The Union and its coalition of labor allies, community groups and state and local elected officials are pushing the city, state and federal government to adopt a set of common good demands to lessen the impact of COVID-19, but also to better protect families and workers going forward.
The coalition has laid out a platform of critical needs framed around the right to recovery for all, to enhance public safety across the city and the state, particularly in communities being most impacted by the virus. The platform includes:
- The provision to all Illinois workers — in CPS schools, public agencies and private businesses — of 15 additional days of paid time off, to align with the quarantine period for COVID-19.
- Covid-19 testing protocols that place no economic burden on individuals and families in need.
- The creation of a CPS/City of Chicago meal delivery strategy to ensure that low-income students who rely on schools for free/reduced cost breakfast and lunch do not go hungry in isolation in the wake of school closures.
- A shared CPS/City of Chicago plan to ensure that students have access to broadband and computers to participate in remote learning should their school be closed.
- CPS suspension of SQRP — CPS’ School Quality Rating Policy, which is heavily biased towards attendance numbers in assessing school ‘performance’.
- Clear guidance from local government — including City and CPS officials — for school workers on both the protocols for ‘enhanced’ and ‘deep’ cleaning, as concerns from rank and file janitorial staff mount on both confusion about protocols and a growing lack of cleaning supplies in schools and other public buildings/spaces.
- A moratorium on evictions, mortgage payments and utility shutoffsfor families in need.
Participating coalition partners include SEIU Local 73, SEIU HCII, National Nurses United, the Illinois Nurses Association, Cook County College Teachers Union Local 1600, University Professionals of Illinois Local 4100, UIC United Faculty Local 6456, United Working Families, Arise Chicago, grassroots community groups partnered through GEM — the Grassroots Education Movement — and City, County and State elected officials.
Those demands dovetail with a ‘right to recovery’ coronavirus relief package being proposed by proposals by state and local lawmakers. That ‘right to recovery’ package expands paid time off for all workers, including part-time parent school workers and supports public education, healthcare and other assistance for those in need.
“This outbreak puts the health and wellbeing of our students, their families, our dedicated educators and our neighborhoods at extreme risk,” said CTU Vice President Stacy Davis Gates. “Our city and state need to act now and adopt far-reaching legislation that provides our communities with access to desperately needed health care support and basic nutrition at the same time that the livelihoods of workers, including part-time parent workers, are protected.”
At press time, city and state officials had committed to some of the Union’s demands. Full time schools staff are being paid full-time wages during the closure and part-time workers are being paid based on the average number of hours they work. CPS agreed to distribute food to families outside school buildings and the governor has proposed expanding unemployment insurance for workers laid off because of the pandemic.
“We’re glad the city and state have accepted some of our demands,” Davis Gates said. “But this is one of the richest states in the richest nation in the world. Government leaders need to step up and do more to protect our public school students and the working families of the entire state.”