As a result of CPS gross mismanagement under Mayor Lightfoot, educators with preexisting conditions were put in harm’s way during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, the Chicago Teachers Union and its members have been raising their voices for safe working conditions for themselves and safe learning conditions for their students and the entire educational community. Regrettably, those calls have fallen on deaf ears. And that is what happened in the case of CTU members Diane McQueen and Jose Vazquez.
Over the past few weeks, CTU settled grievances with CPS that won about $9,000 in back pay for Ms. McQueen and garnered Mr. Vazquez payment for two weeks of denied compensation. While CPS policy required that employees with pending requests for telework accommodations for personal health conditions be allowed to continue working remotely while their requests were pending, these two cases are a clear sign that CPS mismanagement often trumps the good that can come from following a well-thought out policy.
In the case of Ms. McQueen, the principal of Curie Metro High School followed the Mayor’s lead and took a hostile stance toward educators concerned for their health during the pandemic. McQueen’s principal gave her no-win options. She could either risk her health — and possibly her life — to work in person during those uncertain days of the pandemic or take an unpaid leave of absence.
As a result, Ms. McQueen had to take a month of unpaid leave until CPS’s ADA office finally approved her telework request.
For Mr. Vazquez, a teacher at Fairfield, an application for a telework accommodation for a personal health concern was also delayed by CPS’s ADA office, resulting in him being denied pay for two weeks while awaiting a response to the accommodation request.
In the end, both Ms. McQueen and Mr. Vazquez won their grievances.
These wins build on a growing number of favorable resolutions of grievances and ULPs connected to our Covid-19 safety fights with CPS, including the wins for Deanna Myron and the Mask ULP win and affirmation by the full IELRB. We expect there will be more to come. These decisions affirm that our fight for the safety of our students, our families, and ourselves was a righteous one; and they affirm that in our Union, we have each other’s backs.
Let’s be honest — from 2021 to February 2023 is a long time to fight for wages you are rightfully owed, especially when you are fighting to maintain your health and well-being. Regrettably, this is what educators in Chicago must endure under a hostile mayor and misguided district administration.
That is why we as a union must continue to be laser-focused on bolstering organizing at the school level, building district-level power, and changing leadership at the citywide administration level.
A Win for ISLs
Instructional Support Leaders (ISLs) who are National Board Certified Teachers (NBCT) have always received the stipend. This fall, the money didn’t come. When CTU was informed, Field Representative Kathy Murray sprang into action and filed a strongly worded grievance while CTU reached out to CPS officials through other channels.
“I want to thank CTU for fighting hard on my behalf to save my well-earned National Board Certification stipend,” said Sam Rasch, NBCT. “I am grateful they reminded CPS that ISLs are educators who support teachers and students and therefore continue to deserve this benefit.”
Although we have yet to receive an official response to the grievance, our ISLs got a real-life response… their stipends were direct-deposited into their bank accounts. So our pressure worked. Congrats!
Staffing Changes at CPS Central Office
In related news, two significant personnel changes are happening at the top of CPS’s Law and Talent Departments. Joe Moriarty – CPS’s General Counsel, former Chief Labor Relations Officer, and long-time CPS Law Department attorney – is retiring March 1. Lauren Clair-McClellan – the Acting Talent Officer, and former longtime HR administrator – retired last week. While we have had many disagreements and philosophical differences with Joe and Lauren over the years, their tandem departures represent a loss of institutional knowledge that will be difficult for CPS to quickly replace. The revolving door in many CPS departments, and an exodus of experienced employees, mirrors what our members are dealing with daily in school buildings. Chaotic and toxic work environments for educators and city workers have been a constant theme of this Mayor’s administration. The loss of historical memory will likely lead to future instability as we attempt to train the new set of CPS bureaucrats.
The work of our field representatives and attorneys can never be overstated, and their long hours and strenuous efforts to advocate for our members have resulted in our Union winning every Covid-19 grievance and lawsuit against Mayor Lightfoot and CPS—and so much more!
Though the path to victory was long, these efforts ultimately paid off for Diane McQueen, Jose Vazquez and ISLs…and there are more wins to come.
Stacy Davis Gates