American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten told members Tuesday that the union’s leadership would support potential teacher “safety strikes” amid calls to reopen schools during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The union’s executive council approved a resolution last week backing such action as a last resort and on a case-by-case basis, Weingarten revealed in a speech during the union’s annual convention, held online this year.
“If authorities don’t protect the safety and health of those we represent and those we serve, as our executive council voted last week, nothing is off the table,” Weingarten said.
The AFT represents around 1.7 million members, including mostly teachers and school employees, but also nurses and other health care professionals. In June, 76% of polled members said they were comfortable returning to school given adequate safeguards. But a month later, after President Donald Trump and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos pressured schools to reopen at all costs, even without assurances of federal funds to help implement COVID-19 safeguards, teachers are “afraid and angry,” said Weingarten. At the same time, the virus has continued to surge in multiple states.
“These funds should have been distributed to communities months ago. How dare [Senate Majority Leader Mitch] McConnell stonewall and stall this aid? And how dare Trump tweet, in all caps, ‘SCHOOLS MUST OPEN IN THE FALL!!!’ With no plan. No funding. And, frankly, no idea what he is talking about,” Weingarten said, noting that advocacy, protests, negotiations, grievances or lawsuits are also on the table to oppose schools that reopen without prioritizing the safety of workers.
The resolution approved by the union’s executive council contends that school buildings should only reopen in places where tracing mechanisms are in place; where high-risk staff are given special accommodations; where local authorities are able to close schools if the virus spikes;...