Chicago Mayor: Teachers have to be in school next week or we will "take action"

In a promising turn of events in Chicago, Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced this week that all students would be returning to in-person classes beginning next Tuesday. In order to prepare for the upcoming classes, teachers would need to return on Monday. That all sounded good on paper, but in case you weren’t able to predict this yourself, the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) immediately turned around and said that wasn’t going to happen. This set up something of a public standoff, and in a refreshing change from the status quo, Lightfoot announced that her decision was final. If the teachers failed to comply, the city would “take action.” So how do you suppose this is going to work out? (CBS Chicago)

Mayor Lori Lightfoot said at a news conference Sunday that all teachers who have not received a special accommodation are expected to be back in school on Monday – and if they aren’t, “we’re going to have to take action.”

But the Chicago Teachers Union is telling teachers to stay remote, out of concern for safety during the COVID-19 pandemic. Thus, the Chicago Public Schools said adequate staffing cannot be assured, so students will still be learning remotely on Monday — with the expectation that students in pre-kindergarten, special education, and kindergarten-through-eighth grade students should be returning to in-person learning on Tuesday.

So what “actions” were being contemplated? A spokesperson for the Mayor said that any teachers who failed to show up by Tuesday would be locked out of their Google classrooms application, leaving them unable to teach remotely. The CTU responded by saying that locking them out of the application would be “both an unfair labor practice and a violation of our contract.”

By Monday evening, the Mayor didn’t appear to be backing down. So how did the CTU react? They threatened to go on strike.

Maybe it’s just me, but it seems like there’s a pretty obvious question to address here. If you’re refusing to come to work and do your job and your remote working access isn’t available, aren’t you sort of already on strike? What’s the substance behind the threat? That you’re going to start doing less than zero work until your demands are met?

As of this morning, a bit of a truce has been called. Both sides have agreed to a 48 hour “cooling off” period while negotiations continue. But the list of demands from the CTU looks like it will be impossible to meet by next Tuesday. First of all, they want all of the teachers and other school staff vaccinated before they agree to return. There are more than 32,000 teachers and school staff workers in Chicago spread across almost 650 schools. Even if they were in the 1a or 1b groups (they’re not) and they started vaccinating them tomorrow, you couldn’t possibly come close to vaccinating them all in a week. The city isn’t doing that many vaccinations in total yet on a weekly basis, even if you told everyone else to sit on their hands while waiting for the teachers to finish.

They have other demands as well, including weekly testing for all teachers and students (which isn’t unreasonable if they can find enough test kits) and the right for any teachers to continue working remotely if they or a family member is in an “at-risk” category for COVID. The problem with that last demand is that remote learning hasn’t been working for most of the students. That’s why the city is pressing to get them back into class. Will the teachers just show up on a screen while a babysitter watches the kids at their desks? Is that really any better than what they’re doing now?

The CTU is simply taking hostages at this point. And if the city can’t find the gumption to restore order it’s going to be Lori Lightfoot’s fault just as much as the CTU for not being able to fix this debacle.