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Mayor continues to act like she’s above the law, forcing clerks, school staff to continue working in unsafe buildings

“An independent arbitrator found that school buildings are unsafe and ordered that clerks and other staff should be allowed to work remotely at least four days a week. But the mayor decided she’s above the law and refused to abide by that ruling.”

CTU members and staff distribute PPE to clerks at tech coordinators in a dawn action

Recording Secretary Christel Williams-Hayes addresses the press as Union members and staff distribute protective equipment to clerks and technology coordinators in the early morning of September 30, 2020.

The Saturday Joe Biden won the presidential election, Black and Brown women and men across America felt like we could breathe again. We’d been holding our breath through four years of racist hatred from President Donald Trump. We finally felt like we could exhale.

But, by Monday, when our clerks, tech coordinators and other staff reported back to work in their unsafe buildings, that sense of relief vanished. They were once again, literally, afraid to breathe.

Biden’s victory is, in large part, a repudiation of Trump’s pathetic pandemic response. So you would hope the mayor and CPS would take note. But their horrifying indifference to the health and safety of our members persists.

Think about it. An independent arbitrator found that school buildings are unsafe and ordered that clerks and other staff should be allowed to work remotely at least four days a week. But the mayor decided she’s above the law and refused to abide by that ruling.

CPS claims can’t be trusted

In early November, COVID-19 infections and deaths were surging across the state. The mayor told all Chicagoans to stay home for 30 days and Gov. J.B. Pritzker begged all Illinoisans to work remotely. CPS and the mayor ignored the governor’s pleas, still refusing to let clerks do their jobs from home.

To assuage parent and educator concerns about returning to in-person school in poorly ventilated buildings, CPS purchased 4,200 air purifiers to be used in classrooms whenever in-person instruction begins. Was this equipment immediately distributed to our clerks, some of whom have already been sickened by COVID in their buildings, to assuage their fears about working in unsafe schools? While we were receiving daily reports of new coronavirus infections among our clerks, other school staff and their families, the equipment was sitting in a warehouse.

CPS claims it performed air quality inspections on all buildings and they all passed. But those inspections failed to test for the most important aspects of air quality during a pandemic — how much air is being recirculated out of the room and how rapidly. That’s why the Union wants our own inspectors to take a look, as is our contractual right.

Yet CPS refuses to allow us access to inspect building ventilation systems for safety. CPS refuses to abide by the arbitrator’s ruling and the Governor’s work-from-home requests. It refuses to provide air purifiers that could help improve air quality in school offices where clerks fear for their lives.

It’s as if the mayor simply does not care about our workers. It is hard to reach any other conclusion.

We’ll fight with everything we’ve got

Our Union will continue to use every legal tool we have to force CPS to follow the law. We will continue to be guided by science, which dictates that when coronavirus is surging through our communities, we cannot put students, educators and staff in harm’s way by sending them into unsafe buildings.

Chicago’s Black and Brown communities are being slammed by double-digit COVID-19 infection rates. Our school clerks, mostly Black and Brown women, live and work in these same communities. They are committed to serving our students and their families. But they should not be forced to choose between a paycheck and their very lives just because the mayor shares the Trump/DeVos agenda to return workers and students to schools regardless of the health risks.

It’s time for CPS and the mayor to follow the law. Let our school clerks and other staff breathe a little easier.

Christel Williams-Hayes is the CTU Recording Secretary and a PSRP for life.