By Brian Martel, with contributions from David Martinez
Frustrated by longstanding work grievances now exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic’s tumultuous effects on classrooms, teachers in multiple cities across the US are beginning to strike and threaten strikes in order to fight for both their health and economic demands. Teachers in Chicago and Washington DC are on the verge of striking, and in the suburbs of Pittsburgh teachers have been walking the picket lines.
Teachers have partly mobilized in response to the reopening of classrooms, with the teachers unions in Chicago and DC expressing their skepticism of the current health precautions. They are fighting for concrete commitments to protecting teachers’ health, which have been met with resistance by government officials who downplay the concerns.
The Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) clashed with Mayor Lori Lightfoot, who has tried to pit parents against the teachers and said in a press conference, “My patience with delays from the CTU leadership is over.”
This past weekend, the CTU voted to refuse in-person work until an agreement is reached, and have only conducted remote learning in defiance of the city’s plans to bring them back to classrooms. On Wednesday, some teachers who attempted to log in to the remote platforms found themselves locked out. If negotiations break down, a vote for a full-blown strike would be imminent.
Teachers in DC are also contemplating a vote to strike. They have cited buildings in disrepair as a major concern for Covid-19 spread and asked for thorough checks of all facilities. D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser asked a judge for a court order to bar teachers from going on strike.
On Monday, teachers of the Keystone Oaks Education Association (KOEA), in a suburb of Pittsburgh went on strike following negotiations with the Keystone Oaks School District which failed to secure teachers’ economic demands.
KOEA has been in negotiation for over a year with Keystone Oaks School District, which covers multiple Pittsburgh suburbs. Teachers there have worked without a contract since June 30, 2020.
According to KOEA, the school district, “will soon receive about half a million dollars in funds from the CARES Act,” adding up to a total $2 million in additional government funding this school year. Despite this, the school refused to grant teachers their annual raise for 2020.
The Keystone teachers have picketed in the snow every day since the strike began at the start of this month. Community members, students, and their families have supported the striking workers with donations of food and beverages. Students and supporters have also held signs alongside the striking teachers.
“I think the teachers deserve what they deserve, whether it’s covid safety precautions or fair wages. I support it,” said Tim, a Dormont resident. “Being a parent, I also get the struggle of not having your kids go to school. But it’s also about being united and unity […] I feel that they’re underpaid, it’s a systemic issue.”
On Thursday, Mars Area Education Association (MAEA), in the north of Pittsburgh, announced notice of their intent to also strike on February 19 if no agreement is reached with their school district.
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