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Photo of four Black women all wearing red and white Chicago Teachers Union t-shirts that read PSRPs, standing in front of a brown brick building.

Horror stories pour in as CPS pushes clerks, other staff to return for unnecessary, in-person work

The hypocrisy of CPS never ceases to amaze me. Four years ago, the district tried to get rid of school clerks, arguing that they were no longer needed because Kronos and other systems could do their work and save money.

Today, in the midst of a global pandemic with the infectious coronavirus still raging, CPS says clerks are so indispensable that they must show up to work in-person—risking their own lives and the lives of their family—even though their work can be done remotely.

Our Union fought back four years ago and we are fighting back now.

And clerks aren’t the only ones being forced into unsafe working conditions. Technology coordinators, clinicians and others are also being directed to report in person to buildings that are not even enforcing basic safety standards, let alone the extra safeguards needed to protect staff from COVID-19.

Our members report that many buildings are still filthy, lack the necessary PPE and social distancing protocols, and don’t even have running water, soap, and hand sanitizer. There is no system for contract tracing and many people, including outside workers, are entering buildings without masks.

Here’s just a sample of the reports we’re hearing every day:

“It was obvious that my classroom was never ‘deep cleaned.’ For example, the students’ chairs still had crumbs and milk spills on them. The room was covered in a layer of dust.”

“We are sitting here with nothing to do but to wait for calls to come in. Purchase orders, mail, payroll, checking and returning phone calls, internal accounts, payroll and student fees—I did all of these tasks and more from my home last semester.”

“The last two years we have had kindergarteners hospitalized with the flu. We do not have enough custodians to properly clean. They don’t have time for their regular duties, much less the enhanced cleaning protocol. Aramark won’t change anything. CPS won’t do anything either. I’m afraid I’ll die if we go back during COVID-19.”

“I worked this summer because I am a single parent who simply needs to earn extra money when possible. That’s just the fact. My concern is that CPS has not set up the office with the proper PPE…It feels like we are no one to CPS. Cashiers at every store have plexiglass protectors. But CPS clerks had to come to work without theirs?”

“I have felt so much anxiety. Just thinking about what I’m going into: no cleaning station, no shield, no markers on the floor! I feel as if I’ve been sent into the lion’s den covered in blood!”

“No testing before entering. No mask and no real hand sanitizer, only sanitizer that co-workers brought.”

“When I was cleaning out my desk, it was full of rodent droppings.”

These conditions are deplorable, but part of CPS’ systemic all-too-familiar failure during the pandemic, and our members and our students have borne the brunt of this failure.

They’re a classic example of how the “haves” in CPS get the resources and services their schools need, while the “have nots”—the low-income, Black and Brown students who are the majority in our district—get the scraps along with their educators.

The district claims it needs clerks in schools to conduct registration, but registration can and should be done electronically this year. Selective enrollment and options schools already do it online so the technology exists and is offered to the “privileged few” in CPS. CPS also said clerks would be done with in-person working after September 11 — but weeks later CPS is still making clerks go into buildings to do their work.

Our Union has been trying for months to work collaboratively with CPS to guarantee safety for all school staff, but the district continues to insist it doesn’t have to bargain on those issues, even though the right to safe working conditions is a cornerstone of our contract. CPS’ stance also is contrary to the law and to guidance from the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE).

We have filed a series of grievances and an unfair labor practice complaint to force CPS to do the right thing. But, we know full well that it takes more than sound legal strategies to win. We must stay organized, use our teachers’ voice and stand in solidarity with each other.

In the meantime, if you feel returning to work in your building puts you or your family at risk, you can file for a leave under the American’s with Disabilities Act (ADA). Information and forms to file for a leave are on the CTU COVID Leaves of Absence webpage. Contact your field rep if you have additional questions. And, if you feel the conditions in your building are unsafe, please report that to us using this form.

Christel Williams-Hayes is the CTU recording secretary.