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Hello all.

Frustrating doesn’t even begin to describe our bargaining session with CPS yesterday. Ignorant and offensive are more like it.

Mayor Lightfoot’s CPS team turned a simple question about background checks for a potential COVID testing vendor into a baseless and unwarranted attack on our rank-and-file and officers at the table — all of whom are educators of color, have children and grandchildren in CPS, and have more experience in classrooms than the district’s lawyers.

That’s the difference between us and CPS’ representatives. For them, this is a job. But these are our lives, and we are the ones welcoming our students back into classrooms on Monday.

And CPS is not ready. While its public relations campaign tries to paint everything as a success, the mayor’s team in bargaining is stripping away several health and safety protocols that were in place in the winter and spring — mitigations that even they said kept people safe.

Our advocacy and organizing earlier this year moved the mayor to accept one of the most thorough and comprehensive safety agreements in the country. She is now trying to roll that agreement back, but our advocacy and organizing are working once again, as we have:

  • a vastly improved student vaccination program where none existed before;
  • expanded COVID testing slated to begin, albeit late, next week;
  • and an interim CPS CEO on record acknowledging the possibility of COVID shutdowns, although not agreeing to any metrics to trigger them.

We also have preserved some important protections from last year with safety committees in our buildings. Without a final agreement, these will be critical next week in documenting conditions and enforcing standards. The cleaning and disinfecting protocols from our earlier agreements will also continue.

But this is CPS again pushing its responsibility onto teachers and staff, and also making the cheapest attempts at safety, despite the district and the city sitting on billions in federal COVID relief funding.

We are unwilling to sign off on an agreement that fails to include firm social distancing guidelines. Three feet of distance “where possible” is unacceptable. And we must maintain a rigorous health screening process to identify potentially infected students before they walk through the door.

The Delta variant is ripping through our communities, and children are now more susceptible to this deadly virus. The majority of them are not yet eligible for the vaccine. Still, you have spent the last 1-2 weeks preparing their return. That sacrifice, and that of the families you serve, makes you the leaders in this moment, while the mayor and CPS have so far failed to ensure safety for you and your school communities.

But we will not give up. We will continue to bargain, continue to organize in our buildings and communities, and stay united and strong. This is how we win. Remember to please sign and share our Invest in Schools petition and plan to join a safety committee training. We have two trainings scheduled on Sept. 2 and Sept. 8.

I won’t lie to you. Today was a difficult and intense day at the table. CPS leaders, beholden to the mayor, refuse to bargain and become defensive and insulting when we ask for accountability. They insist on forcing an unsafe plan on our members and the public.

But remember: We don’t get our strength from the bargaining table. Our power comes from our unity, our solidarity and our commitment to children and this city.

That blueprint hasn’t failed us in the past, and it won’t fail us now.

In safety and solidarity,
Jesse Sharkey
CTU President