New York City Teachers union poised for possible strike vote Tuesday

Lila Nordstrom, left, a former Stuyvesant High School student who developed chronic bronchitis and severe acid reflux, is one of countless victims of 9/11-related illnesses, said UFT president Michael Mulgrew, center. Photo Credit: Charles Eckert

The United Federation of Teachers punted on the first round of votes to authorize a potential teacher strike during a Monday night executive board meeting. 

Instead, the UFT board unanimously approved a resolution instructing the union’s leadership to continue ongoing negotiations with the city on a safe school reopening plan until all demands are met. The union’s 3,200-person delegate assembly will meet on Tuesday, Sept. 1, at 3:30 p.m. to either vote on a union-approved school reopening plan or a strike authorization. 

 “We can’t afford to send students and staff back into any buildings until we have done everything possible — including a rigorous virus testing program — to see that they are safe,” UFT President Michael Mulgrew in a statement.”  The members of the UFT know that public employee strikes are illegal, but we are determined to do what is necessary to protect our students and the families of New York City.”

Earlier this month, Mulgrew threatened to greenlight a work stoppage if City Hall did not roll out a list of general demands including the delay to in-person learning and increasing school contact tracing efforts. New York State’s Public Employees Fair Employment Act, commonly referred to as the Taylor Law, prohibits public employees from striking at the risk of strapping unions with hefty fines.

If the UFT delegates approve a strike authorization tomorrow, leadership will then be authorized to call for work stoppages at their discretion, according to a UFT spokesperson. 

Earlier on Monday, Mayor Bill de Blasio was skeptical that any sort of job action would happen. The last time the UFT held a strike was in 1975 during the city’s fiscal crisis. 

“The UFT has spoken to this over the weekend and made it clear that a strike vote is not planned,” de Blasio told reporters at his Aug. 31 morning press conference. “I have spoken to Michael Mulgrew, it’s clear to me that that’s not on the agenda for this meeting.” 

The vote comes as pressure mounts from parents, teachers, principals, school staff along with the respective unions to delay the start of in-person classes. The union, whose members represent over 75,000 teachers, has been critical of the mayor’s blended model reopening plan for weeks despite having played a part in creating it. 

During a briefing with the Association for a Better New York, Mulgrew raised concerns over the a lack of personal protective equipment shipments in schools less than two week before the start of in-person classes. Mulgrew also worried that the city still has not adequately figured work assignments for teachers and teachers aids who will now have to teach both remote and in-person students. 

Educators and union are also concerned over the state of ventilation in school buildings given the growing amount of research with evidence to support that COVID-19 lingers in stagnant air. The city has repeatedly said that it has checked all of the city’s 1,800 public school vents and windows and has even recently sent out 100 groups of engineers and ventilation experts to double-check school air quality critics are skeptical. 

A series of recent photos depicting engineers testing school vent airflow by using a small piece of toilet paper tapped to the end of a yard has caused alarm among parents, teachers and some elected officials despite the method actually being approved by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

But prior to “Tissue-gate,” the teacher’s union started conducting its own air ventilation inspections out of concern over the impartiality of city-contracted inspectors. 

“Our conversations with UFT are ongoing and we remain committed to one thing above all: The safety and health of our students, teachers, and school staff,” said de Blasio spokesperson Avery Cohen in an email to amNewYork Metro. “Together, we’ll continue to work towards the best possible plan to get our young people back to the classrooms where they learn best.”