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Facing down CPS threats

CPS today escalated their attempt to intimidate CTU members, in hopes that we will stop our campaign for a safe return, stop exercising our rights, and stop telling the truth to parents and the public. CTU members taking a stand against the Mayor’s reckless reopening plan has had an impact, changing the conversation in Springfield, City Council, LSCs and with parents across the city.

Some members have received an ‘AWOL’ notice from CPS. In an attempt to force members into unsafe buildings, CPS has threatened to stop their pay, lock them out of Google classrooms and cut students off from their teachers and services. If you have received this email from “Workforce Planning,” please look below for guidance on responding to CPS and next steps. You can expect information on additional updates, actions and meetings tomorrow.

Will we get paid?

We believe failure to pay members who exercised their right to refuse an unsafe assignment and remained available to work remotely constitutes illegal wage theft.

Until this point, if they have continued to send students to you, allowed you to teach, submit grades, provide services or have accepted your “work products,” CPS has acknowledged that you are working. This will make denial of payment for those days very difficult for them. It calls into question their claim that you are somehow “absent without leave” when you are in fact trying to continue working.

Teachers at a CTU charter school recently faced this exact same situation. When members filed grievances and Department of Labor complaints, the employer quickly backed down, restored their pay, allowed them to continue working remotely and entered bargaining.

Immediate steps

  • FAQ Review – Last week’s CTU FAQ may be helpful and includes advice on what to do if locked out of Google classroom, and sample emails to send to your principal or manager.
  • Grievance Form – CTU has already been preparing a class action grievance on this issue. If you are locked out of your Google classroom or told that you are being denied pay, please provide information to the CTU Grievance Department by completing this form: www.ctulocal1.org/wagetheft
  • Department of Labor Complaint – Fill out and submit a Department of Labor Wage Claim Form in English or Spanish. Include your school’s address for the employer (or the CPS address if you are not assigned to a single school). In answer to “Who is responsible for issuing pay? (Personnel/HR Manager)”, enter your principal or manager’s name. You can enter your principal or manager’s email when asked for the “President’s Email Address.”
  • Email – The email you may have received states “If you believe that you have received this letter in error, please email us at schoolstaffquestions@cps.edu.” Do so — you have the right to refuse unsafe work assignments, and because you’re exercising that right, we believe that you have received the message in error. See this sample email to send in response:

“I believe I have received this communication in error. As I informed CPS/my principal on [DATE], I am unable to report for in-person work at the school building because of abnormally dangerous health conditions due to the pandemic and my belief that reporting for in-person work would place me in imminent danger. I have continued to successfully perform my work duties. I am ready and willing to continue performing my work duties, but cannot work inside my school building. Please contact me if you wish to discuss the matter further. I will continue to attempt to deliver instruction to my students remotely and grade student assignments, and prepare future lesson and unit plans until my access to Google Classroom is restored. I am also available for other assignments within the scope of my job responsibilities as you work to correct this error.”

  • Organize – Our best protection continues to be power in numbers. Parents and the public are with us and will be shocked that the mayor would threaten the pay of educators who are trying to keep us safe and are prepared to continue educating students. Parents will be furious if CPS decides to deny children access to their teachers. Talk to your coworkers, your LSC, and parent allies to organize locally at your school around this situation, and ask for needed support from CTU organizers and field reps.

Advice on best practices on parent outreach:

CTU members can speak out publicly, off work time, about:

  • Their concerns about CPS’s reopening plan;
  • Why they have refused to return to unsafe buildings and continue teaching remotely;
  • The instructional realities of the plan CPS is implementing (e.g., that CPS’s plan essentially provides for remote learning from school buildings, and completely unworkable simultaneous instruction where members are teaching students online and in-person at the same time);
  • The fact that CPS has disciplined them and withheld pay (or threatened to do so); and
  • The fact that CPS has locked them out of Google Classroom, thereby denying the teachers’ students (most of whom opted to remain remote) access to their teacher because their teacher is not willing to risk their life, and declared them “AWOL” despite continuing to report to work in the same manner they have for the last 10 months

Speaking on these things in coordination with colleagues is even better than doing so alone. Educators, on work time or off, can also respond to inquiries from their students’ parents and explain the above.

You can avoid giving CPS disciplinary ammunition by:

  • Avoiding soliciting parent conversations on this topic during work hours
  • Avoiding using CPS property (CPS email, CPS computers, CPS class rosters with parent phone numbers) for communicating with parents on these topics
  • Only telling the truth in conversations with parents
  • Prioritizing the vast majority of parents who are allies or may be on the fence about CPS’s plan rather than the small number who are vocally on board with CPS’s plan and/or otherwise confrontational
  • Asking parents you have a personal relationship with or the Local School Council to help spread the word about meetings, statements from teachers or other communications.

The mayor and CPS look increasingly awful, hypocritical and cruel. This is a tough, drawn-out battle against a terrible boss — and we are undercutting their credibility and their reopening plan with our resistance. Stay strong. Stay together. Our unity is our greatest strength when we are fighting CPS, and when we fight, we win.