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Photo of three African American women wearing red and white shirts that read: PSRPS Chicago Teachers Union.

CPS tries to change the rules of the game after clear-cut Union win protecting our clerks

I was a school clerk for much of my adult life. My mother was a school clerk and my daughter is a school clerk. My family has proudly served CPS for three generations. We are precisely the kind of dedicated public servants our schools need.

So, why don’t Black and Brown women like us matter to CPS?

In August, the district forced clerks, tech coordinators and other staff to return to work in person in buildings we knew were not safe, even though most of our work can be done remotely. The reports of filthy schools, lack of PPE, and failure to follow social distancing mandates came pouring in immediately.

Our Union challenged CPS and won a ruling from an independent arbitrator, who concluded schools were not safe and workers should not be forced to work in person if their duties can be performed remotely.

How did CPS respond? Ignore the rule of law, lie, bully and threaten workers who dare to exercise their rights. The fact that the mayor and CPS chose to fight the Black and Brown women who make our schools run, instead of the virus, is a slap in the face. But we expected as much.

Remember, the mayor runs the schools. That means decisions are made to serve the mayor’s political interests, not the best interest of our students, parents or teachers. And that means we have to fight those decisions in the political arena.

Our members, especially our clerks, did just that. They stepped up and spoke out loudly as part of a broad organizing and public information campaign that shined the light on the dangerous conditions in schools. Members documented their safety concerns and phone banked colleagues. We had numerous Tele-Town halls, spoke out at the CPS board meeting, and amplified members’ voices at several news conferences.

At the end of September, we took matters into our own hands, distributing PPE to school staff at the crack of dawn to highlight CPS’ dismal failure to provide even basic safety supplies. We won our case in arbitration a few days later.

We’ve all seen how children can act when they don’t get their way. They can turn angry, lose their temper, throw a tantrum. That’s exactly how CPS behaved when they lost in arbitration. They threw a temper tantrum, refused to follow the arbitrator’s ruling, and sought retribution.

Regardless of CPS directives, our members now have a right to do their work from home just as they were doing in the spring. We won the case fair and square—CPS doesn’t get to change the rules of the game because they don’t like the outcome. The stakes are too high.

This is a matter of life and death for us. Schools have been shut down because of a COVID-19 outbreak. At last count, over 250 CPS staff and vendors had contracted the virus, including one of our members, Olga Quiroga, a bilingual teacher who died Oct. 1. She had gone into her building to assist families and fell ill a few days later.

We’ve got top-notch attorneys who go to bat for us. We’ve got the law and the facts on our side and we continue to hammer CPS at the bargaining table. But, as always, our ability to enforce and defend our rights depends on our collective action. We cannot bow to the mayor’s strong arm tactics. We must stand strong and united because that’s how we win.

Christel Williams-Hayes is the CTU Recording Secretary and a PSRP for life.