“Save Our Clerks” campaign to assist workers with basic needs is yet another example of educators and labor coming together to fill in gaps where others have fallen short.

CHICAGO, Nov. 15, 2020—The Chicago Teachers Union has launched a GoFundMe campaign to aid rank-and-file school clerks, clerk assistants and technology coordinators should they choose to follow an independent arbitrator’s ruling — risking discipline from Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Chicago Public Schools — and work remotely as the COVID-19 pandemic surges.

Chicago is at a critical point as COVID-19 ravages our city, and school clerks and technology coordinators need to be home, doing their work remotely, as the arbitrator’s ruling allows. CPS and the mayor are using the argument these workers are “essential,” yet treating them like guinea pigs.

To the Union, however, 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. Many of them are women who are the heads of their households, whose income sustains other family members. They live in communities where COVID-19 positivity rates are nearing or above 20 percent, like Brighton Park, Lawndale, Gage Park and Austin.

And they are now being forced to make the false choice between a paycheck and their health and safety.

“An injustice to one is an injustice to all, and there’s no shortage of injustice that these women have suffered in our society,” CTU President Jesse Sharkey said. “CPS is already making threats, and we have to fight for both their lives and their livelihoods, while also defending their rights.”

Arbitrator Jeanne Charles ruled last week that clerks and other workers 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, yet so far, the mayor and the district have been willing to violate the CTU-Chicago Board of Education contract, break the law and risk members’ health 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.

The GoFundMe campaign became a necessity as the mayor and CPS began making threats of termination, pay docking and requiring use of benefit days against employees for exercising their rights.

“That a Black, female mayor would choose to consistently but Black, female educators in harm’s way as COVID-19 hits its peak is unconscionable,” CTU Vice President Stacy Davis Gates said. “You don’t get to put on the ‘Black female’ cape when it’s convenient — you recognize the work of people who look like you, and who’ve suffered like you, and you protect them at all costs.”

As an officer of the law, it is troubling that Mayor Lightfoot would blatantly disregard a legal order to keep workers safe, and even more so for someone who regularly touts equity, transparency and accountability as a major part of the platform on which she governs. The refusal to bargain and work collaboratively on the part of her and the district she leads — their posture since schools were closed in March — is not just undermining educators’ remote working conditions, but threatening human lives.

All employees have a right to safe working conditions, and if CPS and the mayor can’t come to the bargaining table with a shared commitment to protect the safety and support the needs of students, families and educators as COVID-19 rages, then they’re a failure.

The launch of the Union’s GoFundMe campaign to assist workers with basic needs is yet another example of educators and the labor community coming together to fill in gaps where others have fallen short.

“We can disagree ideologically, but the arbitrator has put forth a legally binding decision, and while CPS and the mayor threaten, and dither, people have to live their lives,” Davis Gates said. “They have bills to pay and ends to meet, and we’re going to help them as much as we can through this difficult time.”

The Chicago Teachers Union represents more than 25,000 teachers and educational support personnel working in Chicago Public Schools, and by extension, the nearly 400,000 students and families they serve. The CTU is an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers and the Illinois Federation of Teachers and is the third-largest teachers local in the United States. For more information please visit the CTU website at www.ctulocal1.org.