Teachers unions have been instrumental in keeping American schools online during the pandemic. But some have escalated their positions on reopening to include an array of social justice demands.
A set of demands from teachers unions in July, which addressed how to safely reopen schools amid a pandemic, was criticized by The Wall Street Journal editorial board as “political extortion.” The board argued that unions were taking advantage of a health crisis to advance their own ideological agendas and to eliminate competition from charter schools.
“For most Americans the coronavirus is a scourge. But teachers unions seem to think it’s also an opportunity—to squeeze more money from taxpayers and put their private and public charter school competition out of business,” the board wrote. “Rather than work to open schools safely, the unions are issuing ultimatums and threatening strikes until they are granted their ideological wish list.”
“If there’s a silver lining here, it’s that Americans are getting a closer look at the true, self-interested character of today’s teachers unions,” The Wall Street Journal editorial board added. (RELATED: Our Kids Are The Hostages — How Teachers Unions Are Using Coronavirus To Try To Line Their Pockets)
Prior to school openings, Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, said that no action was “off the table” when it came to the safety of students and teachers. The head of the National Educators Association Lily Eskelsen García reinforced Weingarten’s approach.
“Nobody wants to see students back in the classroom more than educators, but when it comes to their safety, we’re not ready to take any options off the table,” Garcia said.
Studies suggest that schools are not the once-feared super spreaders and the positive COVID-19 tests there typically reflect outbreaks in the surrounding community. A survey conducted by Brown University economist Emily Oster in September analyzed data from schools across 47 states. Out of more than 200,000 students and 63,000 staff tested, the study found an infection rate among staff at 0.24% and 0.13% among students.
Forty percent of American students are taking classes exclusively online, USA Today reported in mid-November.
United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA) made a list of demands in a July policy paper to safely reopen L.A. schools, The Daily Wire reported. The list included a plea for local help to defund police department as well as an effort to close charter schools — their competition. The Union argued police brutality “is a leading cause of death and trauma for Black people, and is a serious public health and moral issue.” The paper asks local authorities to “shift the astronomical amount of money devoted to policing, to education and other essential needs such as housing and public health.”
Charter schools, according to the 35,000-member union, “drain resources from district schools.” The union’s policy paper also advocated for a Medicare for All plan, according to The Daily Wire.
UTLA also reached an agreement that barred schools from requiring online, face-to-face instruction, which also included a provision stating teachers do not have to work over four hours a day, according to The Wall Street Journal.
“It is time to take a stand against Trump’s dangerous, anti-science agenda that puts the lives of our members, our students, and our families at risk,” said UTLA President Cecily Myart-Cruz, The Daily Wire reported. “Even before the spike in infections and Trump’s reckless talk, there were serious issues with starting the year on school campuses.”
Other states and localities recently shut down their school districts amid a new surge in COVID-19 cases. New York City, despite maintaining an infection rate below 1%, shut down its schools Nov. 19. Democratic Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear followed suit, closing schools Nov. 23.
Teachers unions insisting on virtual teaching are destroying the education of our childrenhttps://t.co/XRqE2sZ8Dd
— Mark R. Levin (@marklevinshow) November 25, 2020
Prior to the pandemic in October 2019, 25,000 members of the Chicago Teachers Union went on strike based on a broad social justice agenda, CBS reported. The strike was the largest in 25 years. A primary goal was to reduce class size, which could exceed 30 or 40 students, according to the CBS.
Ultimately, the union reached an agreement with the city to raise wages by 16% over a 5-year contract period. Chicago teachers are among the highest paid in the U.S. with an average annual salary of nearly $76,000, CBS reported.
Teaching assistants and other staffers who are lower on the pay scale in Chicago, under the deal, would get a 40% pay bump, Vox reported. Teachers demanded the city expand affordable housing, but the request did not make it into the final deal.
Frederick M. Hess, director of education policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute, argued that before Trump, teachers unions were on the ropes. Yet Trump “the boogeyman” invigorated their causes. But once Trump is out of office, teachers unions’ political wish lists will look selfish and unfocused on student needs, Hess wrote.
“In the last few years, things have turned around for the unions — they’ve effectively positioned their members as sympathetic underdogs while riding an anti-Trump progressive wave to great effect,” Hess wrote.
“If Biden is wearing his mask and pushing for more school funding, unions will no longer be able to insist that school reopening is just a Trumpian rush back to business-as-usual. A reluctance to get teachers back to school will look less responsible and more self-interested,” Hess continued.