I read and we posted the letter for the Queens Chapter Leaders Friday and found it persuasive as a call to arms for a UFT job action. Arthur Goldstein and Mike Schirtzer have subsequently posted strong strike endorsements this weekend. Mike's headline: "Strike or Die- It's Your Choice," is not overly dramatic; it's accurate. 75 DOE school-based employees and 12 School Safety Agents lost their lives in the spring from COVID-19 complications. Michael Mulgrew stated that it is logical to conclude some were infected at work and no other school system that I know of suffered such terrible losses from COVID-19. It could happen again if we return to the buildings, no matter how the DOE tries to appease us that it is safe.
We are in a labor union and the Union leadership has asked us to stand together in a militant call to action to protect UFT member health as well as the health and safety of the students and their families. I 100% support them in that call for militancy. I've been asking for Michael Mulgrew and before him Randi Weingarten to do this for 20 years. That said, except for the fact that this is a labor-management dispute, there is almost nothing about this potential job action to ensure safety that is like a traditional strike and we have to think about it in a non-traditional way.
We would be rather hypocritical to argue that we have to go on strike because it's not safe to go into the subways and buses where our crowding them could spread coronavirus to go to work but we could use the same subways and buses to set up our socially distant picket lines outside of schools. I don't believe calling for a traditional picket line is the best way forward. I would advocate for only the UFTer who lives closest to the school to go near the actual school building to take a photo of any scab who enters the building and post it everywhere if we were to engage in some kind of strike. Since CSA seems to be with us in the current dispute, maybe the principals can help call out the scabs too. However, I am not really advocating here for a strike, just for following DOE rules.
A job action in September would be like none other in our history. Before there was a UFT, the Evening High School Teachers went on a wildcat strike in 1959 that doubled their wages. The UFT went on strikes in 1960, 1962, 1967, 1968, and 1975. All of the strikes were illegal and they mostly were successful. The closest to our current situation is 1960 when the UFT action was so daring that most people found it hard to believe they did it. Today, many active UFTers have no conception of union activism and many fear the risks that are truly being exaggerated beyond belief in the comments here and in other places.
Most UFTers who have expressed reservations about a job action are worried about the Taylor Law fining them two days pay for every day they are out on strike. I have said since March and I will say it again for the hundredth time, it is not a strike in the meaning of the term when you refuse to go into the subways or school buildings in a global pandemic where you entering either one could spread a very dangerous virus. This is a safety strike as sanctioned by the AFT. Please read Section 210 of the Taylor Law closely to understand why this would not be a prohibited strike.
Let us take the definition of a strike from Merriam Webster: to stop work in order to force an employer to comply with demands. UFTers would not be stopping work by demanding to work remotely. UFTers would be ready, willing, and able to work remotely at home as thousands of colleagues have already been approved to do.
Now, please scroll down to (b) of Section 210 of the Taylor Law which states:
(b) Presumption. For purposes of this subdivision an employee who is absent from work without permission, or who abstains wholly or in part from the full performance of his duties in his normal manner without permission, on the date or dates when a strike occurs, shall be presumed to have engaged in such strike on such date or dates.
By logging onto your computer after following the DOE guidance on when you are not supposed to report to work during the pandemic, you have the permission of your employer to stay home.
Read the DOE's own School Reopening Plan to understand your responsibilities as an employee. This is on page 26:
Daily health screenings for students and school-based staff, including temperature checks, must be completed at home by families and by school-based staff. NYCDOE will launch a robust education campaign that makes clear to parents and school-based staff how important these daily health checks are to keeping school communities healthy and safe. NYCDOE is committed to the purchasing of thermometers for at home use for families who may need them.
School-based staff and students cannot report to school if they have:
• Experienced any symptoms of COVID-19 (chills, cough, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, fatigue, muscle or body aches, headache, loss of taste or smell, sore throat, congestion or runny nose, nausea or vomiting, or diarrhea), including a temperature of greater than 100.0°F, in the past 14 days;
• Been knowingly in close or proximate contact in the past 14 days with anyone who has tested positive through a diagnostic test for COVID-19 or who has or had symptoms of COVID-19 (fever or chills, cough, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, fatigue, muscle or body aches, headache, loss of taste or smell, sore throat, congestion or runny nose, nausea or vomiting, or diarrhea);
• Tested positive through a diagnostic test for COVID-19 in the past 10 days; AND/OR
• Traveled internationally or from a state with widespread community transmission of COVID-19 per the New York State Travel Advisory in the past 14 days.
Spare me the Taylor Law hysteria. Those of you too squeamish to strike are almost being encouraged to stay home by your employer.
The DOE-City will try to say this amounts to a sickout but if you turn on your computer and say you are prepared to work even though you have a headache or stomach ache, they will have a very difficult time making the case that tens of thousands of teachers and other UFTers who are ready to work remotely are not in compliance with the law. UFT Solidarity calls it a Remote Out. Just imagine the absurdity of the City-DOE going to court to get an injunction to stop us from abiding by their own rules on when to stay home!
We can fight it all out in court but the school buildings will be shut down without adequate staffing. If you are still worried, there is an appeal procedure in the Taylor Law if you are accused of engaging in a strike. Any decision against you can then be appealed in court. It will take years for it to wind its way through the courts. This could be an election issue for next year's mayoral campaign. Candidates could be asked to promise to drop any case against UFTers for insisting to work from home in exchange for union support. At the state level, we could fight to finally get rid of the part of the Taylor Law prohibiting strikes by NYS government employees which the International Labor Organization of the United Nations has already ruled is a human rights violation.
In short, nobody is going to be fined, lose their tenure for a year, if ever, or be disciplined any time soon for working to DOE rules. This would not be a strike in the traditional sense of the word. You never know what will happen in court and I am not saying we can't lose but we have a very strong case.
As stated above and now 101 times, UFTers are entitled by Contract to a safe work environment and the DOE-City are violating the UFT Contract by sending UFTers into unsafe buildings during a pandemic. The grievance process does not offer appropriate remedies as your health and the health of the students are at risk if UFTers work in school buildings. A source informed me that at the Bronx meeting for Chapter Leaders last Friday the safe environment argument was actually made by a UFT official. Stop the fear-mongering in the comments section. We have a right to be safe.
I will deal with some of the other conspiracy theories that have been laid out in the comments and in other places in a future post.