City Col­leges con­sid­er­ing strike over coro­n­avirus con­cerns

Chicago Sun-Times - - TOP NEWS - BY STE­FANO ES­POS­ITO, STAFF RE­PORTER ses­pos­ito@sun­times.com | @sle­spos­ito

Days after the Chicago Teach­ers Union threat­ened to strike over con­cerns about re­turn­ing to schools dur­ing the coro­n­avirus pan­demic, the unions rep­re­sent­ing work­ers at the City Col­leges of Chicago are try­ing a sim­i­lar tac­tic.

“It’s cer­tainly a good in­di­ca­tion that when an ad­min­is­tra­tion or dis­trict comes up against re­al­ity, in this case [Chicago Pub­lic Schools] made the right de­ci­sion. We’re want­ing the City Col­leges to do the same thing,” said Tony John­ston, pres­i­dent of Cook County Col­lege Teach­ers Union, which rep­re­sents a to­tal of about 1,900 fac­ulty mem­bers, stu­dent ad­vis­ers and other em­ploy­ees across the seven City Col­leges.

An­other 500 or so cler­i­cal staff could also po­ten­tially go on strike if the work­ers’ de­mands aren’t met. Al­though classes don’t be­gin un­til Aug. 24 — and most of them are be­ing taught on­line in the fall — some em­ploy­ees re­turned to work Mon­day, in­clud­ing stu­dent ad­vis­ers.

In a tele­con­fer­ence with a hand­ful of em­ploy­ees and union lead­ers, John­ston said cam­puses lack ba­sic pro­tec­tions against the coro­n­avirus, in­clud­ing ad­e­quate plex­i­glass bar­ri­ers, so­cial dis­tanc­ing mark­ings and masks.

“The plans and their im­ple­men­ta­tion are de­fi­cient given the cur­rent con­di­tions of this out­break,” John­ston said. “The sim­ple truth is our col­leges, much like K-12 schools, were not made to de­liver in­struc­tion and stu­dent ser­vices un­der th­ese pan­demic con­di­tions.”

The unions are urg­ing the ad­min­is­tra­tion to con­tinue op­er­at­ing the col­leges as they did in March, with mostly on­line ser­vices avail­able to stu­dents, un­til they have a “safe plan” in place.

Union lead­ers are ex­pected to dis­cuss a vote of no-con­fi­dence in the ad­min­is­tra­tion on Fri­day, which could po­ten­tially lead to a “safety strike” shortly be­fore or on the day classes be­gin.

“En­sur­ing the health and safety of our stu­dents, fac­ulty and staff, and sup­port­ing our stu­dents in reach­ing their aca­demic goals are our top pri­or­i­ties,” Kath­eryn Hayes, a City Col­leges spokes­woman, said in a state­ment. “We rec­og­nize that while some of our stu­dents can take ad­van­tage of re­mote ser­vices, some stu­dents with lit­tle to no prior col­lege or tech­nol­ogy ex­pe­ri­ence are best served in-per­son . ... Our ap­proach to re­open­ing has been re­viewed by ex­perts from the Chicago Department of Pub­lic Health, and our plans fol­low the stan­dards and rec­om­men­da­tions of the Illi­nois and Chicago De­part­ments of Pub­lic Health, the Illi­nois Board of Higher Ed­u­ca­tion and the Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol and Preven­tion.”

City Col­leges fac­ulty last went on strike back in 2004, when con­tract talks broke down.

Tony John­ston

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