Chicago’s mayor initially refused to provide N95 masks for students, and continues to reject opt-out COVID-19 testing as an “invasive medical procedure,” despite its use in Chicago charter schools and districts throughout the state and U.S.
CHICAGO, January 12, 2022 — Rank-and-file members of the Chicago Teachers Union voted to accept the tentative agreement the Union reached with Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s Chicago Public Schools bargaining team earlier this week.
With almost 70 percent of members voting, the agreement was approved with 55.5 percent voting in favor and 44.5 percent voting against, out of 18,620 votes cast.
The agreement addresses CPS’ chronically inadequate COVID-19 testing and contact tracing by expanding testing, and giving school communities increased control over both, even as Mayor Lightfoot continues to reject opt-out testing protocols. Educators also now have a metric for reverting to remote learning, as well as incentives for increased substitute teachers to address staffing concerns.
The agreement also provides both students and staff with N95 masks, which are recommended as a standard of protection against the highly infectious Omicron variant.
Even before the vote was finalized, school communities had already begun to organize around tracking and protecting against COVID-19 infection in their schools, with a growing number of schools poised to go on pause because of infection rates among staff and students.
CTU President Jesse Sharkey issued the following statement to rank and file members:
“This vote is a clear show of dissatisfaction with the boss. It’s outrageous that teachers, school nurses, counselors and more had to endure a week of being locked out by the mayor just to get a commitment from her bargaining team to provide every student with an N95 mask in a pandemic.
“This agreement covers only a portion of the safety guarantees that every one of our school communities deserve. Put bluntly, we have a boss who does not know how to negotiate, does not know how to hear real concerns and is not willing to respect our rank and file enough to listen to us when we tell her we need more protection. Our members’ vote today represents a union’s, and a city’s, frustration with a mayor that has simmered since the beginning of this pandemic. We’ve been fortunate that Governor Pritzker has led responsibly, including an offer of hundreds of thousands of SHIELD tests to the district, that the mayor rejected for weeks. But you deserve more, and the families you serve deserve more, and we will continue fighting for that.
“I’m extremely proud of the courage and sacrifice of our members, who took a stand in working remotely for four days in an attempt to slow the spread of COVID-19 in our school communities. This agreement does give us the enforceable right to additional protections, and we have every intention of organizing at the school level across the city to continue protecting the safety of our students and their families.