Teachers in states like Florida, Arizona and Texas are the most likely to strike in protest of unsafe working conditions amid the pandemic, union leader Randi Weingarten warned Wednesday.
If governors and local leaders reopen schools in places where coronavirus cases are spiking — without first containing the spread or meeting demands for safety measures — teachers can't surrender in negotiations leading up to the start of the school year, said Weingarten, who serves as president of the American Federation of Teachers, in an interview with POLITICO.
"You can't say, at the end, ‘Okay, I just give up.’ You have to actually be true to your convictions," Weingarten said. "And if that means a safety strike as a last resort, that's what it means. If you believe that the safety and health of people are really sacrosanct, then you’ve got to be able to sacrifice for it.”
So if leaders refuse to resort to remote instruction in areas with high levels of community spread or positive tests, Weingarten said “you’re going to see a safety strike there.”
Weingarten’s warning comes a day after the union president announced that coronavirus-related strikes are on the table, adding fresh tension to the debate over reopening schools.
The union, which represents 1.7 million educators in the United States, adopted a resolution this month that says schools should only open in places where the average daily community infection rate among those tested for the coronavirus is below 5 percent and the transmission rate is below 1 percent.
Educators are not going to be able to teach kids "if people are scared to death," Weingarten said Wednesday. “And if people die while they are educating kids, you eviscerate any credibility that you would have going forward about whether or not a school is safe.”
The union also said schools can only reopen if staff at high risk for serious health problems from contracting Covid-19 have access to special accommodations and local authorities have plans to shut down schools if infections spike. The group's demands for school safeguards include rules for physical distancing and face coverings, resources to sanitize facilities, as well as updates for ventilation and building systems.