The Chicago Teachers Union has filed another grievance against Chicago Public Schools, claiming the district has illegally refused to bargain over the health and safety of union members and how to safely resume in-person learning.
The union on Friday announced a new unfair labor practice charge against CPS, claiming the district’s decision to bring back some students for in-person learning next quarter was made without bargaining with the CTU.
In doing so, CPS violated the terms of the union’s collective bargaining agreement, union leadership claims.
“We all want to return to our students. We don’t want to die doing our jobs, and we don’t want to be vectors for spreading illness or death to our students and their families,” CTU Vice President Stacy Davis Gates said in a statement. “Yet the mayor and CPS simply refuse to lay out and discuss their plan for returning to classrooms, when we know from their own facilities records that these buildings aren’t safe.”
CPS announced last week that pre-K and some special education students will be phased back into in-person learning during the second quarter of the school year.
Earlier this month, an independent arbitrator ruled that CPS’ buildings were not “safe and healthful” for the hundreds of clerks and other staff required to do their work in person. Union officials later claimed the school district ignored a deadline to come up with a solution.
In their latest charge, filed with the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board, CTU leaders said they subpoenaed documents from CPS about the maintenance of the ventilation systems in its school buildings. Upon receiving those documents, the union said it learned “hundreds of schools had serious maintenance problems.”
According to the union, 60% of CPS schools have no central HVAC system and only 9% have air filtration systems meeting public health recommendations for COVID-19 safety.
When the union requested the right to inspect 13 schools, it said it was denied.
“The district claims to have initiated audits, assessments and repairs of its air circulation systems,” Davis Gates said, “but is now refusing to share reports detailing that alleged work, and refusing to allow the Union’s certified industrial hygienist to conduct inspections of any CPS school buildings.”
In response to the new charges, CPS spokeswoman Emily Bolton said the district is “disheartened that CTU continues to obstruct and mislead the public about the necessary planning measures needed to prepare for a potential return to safe in-person learning.”
She said the union is not contractually or legally entitled to its own inspection, and CPS has already hired third-party environmental hygienists to conduct air quality inspections, the results of which will be made public once completed.
“While the district is doing everything in its power to plan for all possible scenarios, the CTU refuses to even discuss a return to in-person learning, even as hundreds of private schools in Chicago are open,” Bolton said in a statement. “We don’t know what the health situation will be in a couple of weeks time, but it would be irresponsible not to plan ahead while thousands of students miss out on valuable learning.”
Note: This story was originally published Friday, Oct. 23. It has been updated to include our conversation with CTU Vice President Stacy Davis Gates on “Black Voices.”