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We are living in a pandemic. COVID-19 has taken nearly 200,000 American lives, and has impacted Black and Latinx communities the worst.

Throughout this crisis, the Chicago Teachers Union has led with our values. We believe that our students, members and their families deserve safety; safety first and safety always.

When Mayor Lightfoot announced that the district would be going to remote learning, we believed that also meant remote working. Recently, we learned that our clerks are being directed by the mayor and CPS to report to school buildings.

The Illinois State Board of Ed told districts throughout the state that they must bargain over remote learning conditions. Yet, CPS made special rules about clerks working in-person against Union objections—and did it right after finally admitting that the whole district needs remote learning this fall.

The mayor and CPS have made it clear that they do not intend to negotiate. They could have followed the lead of large urban districts like L.A., which have negotiated remote learning plans with their workers. Instead of building bridges, they bulldozed.

We contend that clerks, who have been working remotely, can continue their duties remotely. We have members who are high risk, and also recovering from COVID-19, who should not be forced by the district to risk their life and their health. Especially not at a time when we also have a number of clerks who live in high COVID zip codes for both cases and deaths.

District leaders say that Black lives matter to them. At the same time, they order a job group that is mostly Black and Brown women to unnecessarily take on extra risk. In a pandemic where Black and Latinx people are dying at a higher rate than all other groups, what does that tell you about CPS management?

On a call with hundreds of rank-and-file clerks today, when asked about comfort level with the Board of Ed being able to decide on its own when it’s safe enough to send staff and students back into the buildings with them, 95% of respondents said “no.”

Despite our legitimate concerns, CPS and the mayor are allowing administrators to direct clerks to report to buildings—and with no guarantees on adequate PPE. That’s unacceptable.

Clerks are the heart of school communities, and they deserve the same rights as teachers. They are majority Black and Brown women, heads of household. Their lives matter.

We’ll continue to press CPS on this issue and will never give up fighting for the safety of  of our members. We have filed a grievance over the district’s unfair labor practices surrounding our clerks and their work. Unsafe working conditions must be addressed, and safe and healthful conditions provided, before clerks or any workers return to school buildings.