On 6 February, the Chicago Teachers’ Union (CTU) issued a “framework... relating to resumption of in-person instruction” to its membership, and their vote to ratify was reported on 10 February.
That framework included familiar features. Every CPS (Chicago Public Schools) facility must have sufficient hand sanitiser, disinfectant wipes, “sneeze guards”, medical grade face coverings, and PPE.
But some is unfamiliar — and can be a model for us in schools, and other workplaces too.
The framework agreement says: “The Union and the Board [management] will create two levels of Covid-19 safety committees”.
“Building-level COVID safety committee... will be composed of the following from each school: 1. the principal; 2. the building engineer, building manager or quality assurance manager, as selected by the principal; 3. up to four CTU members, as selected by CTU; 4. and a reasonable number of employees represented by other unions at CPS”. So, a union majority.
Above those will stand “district-level Covid safety committees... four representatives each to serve on a health and safety committee to monitor, study, and finally resolve issues arising out of the return to in-person learning, including compliance with the CPS-CTU Covid-19 safety checklist. The District committee will meet at least weekly or more often as agreed to by the members throughout the course of the Covid-19 emergency...
“The parties may invite subject matter experts to attend committee meetings if both parties consent. Issues referred by the building-level safety committees shall be resolved as quickly as possible, preferably within 24 hours but recognising some issues may take longer to resolve, depending on the complexity”.
Also in the framework, no CTU bargaining unit member shall be required to administer health screenings, temperature checks, or Covid-19 tests — other than nurses.
Organising for health and safety in schools during the pandemic has stepped up in many schools and other workplaces in the UK as well, with an increase in union health and safety reps and the development of a better culture of regard to health and safety. Some school health and safety committees have held regular meetings, and there were many inspiring accounts of mass use of “Section 44” letters (refusal of unsafe work areas) by school union groups back in January.
Unions can build on that and the Chicago model.