An independent arbitrator ruled today that our school clerks, clerk assistants and technology coordinators across CPS can now work remotely at least four days a week. Duties that can feasibly be performed remotely — the same duties that were performed from March to June with no issues — may be done from home.
The ruling is legally binding on CPS, but we know that Mayor Lightfoot and Chicago Public Schools have been willing to violate our contract, break the law and risk our heath rather than take input from educators on their reckless intentions to bring as many people as they can back into buildings as soon as possible.
We are at a critical point as COVID-19 ravages our city. The current spike in cases has slowed their actions, but only temporarily. The minute COVID-19 numbers start to trend in the opposite direction, CPS and the mayor will again try to force us and our students back into buildings, regardless of the consequences, concerns from parents or objections from staff.
They are using the argument (the same argument made by the Trump administration) that educators are “essential workers,” but to them, clerks and technology coordinators are guinea pigs (with Pre-K and special education as the next experiment if we allow it).
To us, these members are brave individuals who have worked in the face of COVID-19 infection and death since late August. Eighty percent of clerks are female Black and Latinx workers who live in zip codes where the virus is surging with positivity rates in double digits. Many of them are women who are the heads of their households, whose income sustains other family members, as well.
The mayor has just issued a warning advising Chicagoans to act as if they’re under a stay-at-home order, and the Illinois Department of Public Health has asked everyone possible to work from home. So we’re doing the same for our members.
We all must act to protect every CTU member, but especially our clerks, clerk assistants and technology coordinators who face immediate threats right now. No one should be reporting to any CPS building until the district bargains with us over safety plans, follows the arbitrator’s order and documents protections for our members. As of now, CPS has no adequate plans and has reached no agreement with our union that ensures protection.
School workers are becoming infected with COVID-19. Some are dying, and CPS has taken no new steps to ensure this won’t continue to be the case. “Understand that it is impossible to have a COVID-free veterans home, a COVID free school in the midst of a COVID storm,” Illinois Department of Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike said today. “And that’s what we have in our community right now.”
The mayor is urging people across the city to work remotely and avoid all but essential outside activities, but still forcing our school clerks and others to work in unsafe buildings. That’s a double standard that makes no sense.
All members need to stand together in solidarity to demand that CPS immediately comply with the arbitration ruling. We will not stand by while other members are forced to unnecessarily report to buildings and put themselves, their families or their colleagues at risk.
We must continue to work remotely until CPS and the mayor make the health and safety of their employees a priority. Clerks, clerk assistants and technology coordinators are only required to go in for work that must be completed in the building, for up to one day per week. No one should be working in buildings without negotiated safety measures.
If the mayor and CPS won’t take our lives seriously, delegates across the union have committed to doing whatever is necessary to protect ourselves. Expect additional information and action steps in the coming days.