Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

Union Representing 1.7 Million U.S. Teachers Says It Will Support Strikes If Schools Reopen Unsafely

Health + Wellness
Union Representing 1.7 Million U.S. Teachers Says It Will Support Strikes If Schools Reopen Unsafely

The American Federation of Teachers issued guidelines for the safe reopening of schools, including the use of face masks. izusek / E+ / Getty Images Plus

The second largest teachers union in the U.S. announced Tuesday it would support strikes if schools reopened without proper safety measures in place to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus.

The announcement comes as the Trump administration has called for schools to reopen in the fall for in-person instruction amid a nationwide surge in cases, NPR reported.

"We will fight on all fronts for the safety of our students and their educators," American Federation of Teachers (AFT) President Randi Weingarten said at the union's biennial convention Tuesday, as NPR reported. "But if authorities don't protect the safety and health of those we represent and those we serve ... nothing is off the table. Not advocacy or protests, negotiations, grievances or lawsuits, or, if necessary and authorized by a local union, as a last resort, safety strikes."

The union, which represents 1.7 million teachers, issued the resolution in support of strikes on Friday but announced it at its convention Tuesday, which was held online because of the pandemic, as ABC News reported. The resolution means that the union will offer legal, communications and staffing support to any local districts that decide to strike.

The resolution also lists certain conditions that must be met in order for schools to reopen safely. They include:

  1. Only reopening in areas that have reduced the infection rate to below five percent and the transmission rate to below one percent
  2. Only reopening in areas with effective testing and tracing mechanisms in place
  3. Having a trigger in place to close schools again if infections rise
  4. Establishing workplace accommodations for employees who are at greater risk if they contract COVID-19
  5. Enacting safety measures like requiring masks for staff and students, ensuring physical distancing of six feet and providing well-stocked hand-washing facilities

The largest U.S. teachers union, the National Education Association (NEA), also said it would not rule out strikes to keep staff and students safe.

"Nobody wants to see students back in the classroom more than educators," NEA President Lily Eskelsen García said in a statement Tuesday reported by POLITICO. "But when it comes to their safety, we're not ready to take any options off the table."

The Trump administration, meanwhile, criticized the AFT for issuing a strike threat.

"Let's not pretend that Ms. Weingarten's threat to strike has anything to do with the safety or children or the public," Education Department spokesperson Angela Morabito said in a statement reported by POLITICO. "If the unions were really concerned about doing what's best for students and teachers, they'd be focused on what they need to do to be a partner in reopening schools safely."

However, Weingarten said that President Donald Trump and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos had inflamed the situation with their push to "open or else." She said a June poll found 76 percent of AFT members were comfortable returning to in-person instruction if safety measures were in place, but that was before the recent spike in cases and aggressive push to reopen schools.

"Now they're angry and afraid," Weingarten said, according to POLITICO. "Many are quitting, retiring or writing their wills. Parents are afraid and angry too."

Large districts like Los Angeles, Houston and Atlanta have already decided to begin the school year online, according to ABC News. In hard-hit Florida, meanwhile, the local AFT has sued to block the state's reopening plan, which it called "reckless and unsafe."

Trump acknowledged last week that some districts may not be able to reopen immediately, but still wants Congress to block relief for schools that do not reopen.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued guidelines last week largely supporting the reopening of schools, POLITICO reported.

"The best available evidence indicates if children become infected, they are far less likely to suffer severe symptoms," the CDC wrote. "Death rates among school-aged children are much lower than among adults. At the same time, the harms attributed to closed schools on the social, emotional, and behavioral health, economic well-being, and academic achievement of children, in both the short- and long-term, are well-known and significant."

However, Eskelsen García criticized the statement for making no mention of teacher safety.


"There is not one word about the health risks of the big people in that school," she told Yahoo Life. "We wonder what the silence about all that is about, like, 'Don't worry about the kids and certainly don't worry about the teachers!' They don't even come into the equation."

A dugong, also called a sea cow, swims with golden pilot jacks near Marsa Alam, Egypt, Red Sea. Alexis Rosenfeld / Getty Images

In 2010, world leaders agreed to 20 targets to protect Earth's biodiversity over the next decade. By 2020, none of them had been met. Now, the question is whether the world can do any better once new targets are set during the meeting of the UN Convention on Biodiversity in Kunming, China later this year.

Read More Show Less

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

President Joe Biden signs executive orders in the State Dining Room at the White House on Jan. 22, 2021 in Washington, DC. Jabin Botsford / The Washington Post via Getty Images

By Andrew Rosenberg

The first 24 hours of the administration of President Joe Biden were filled not only with ceremony, but also with real action. Executive orders and other directives were quickly signed. More actions have followed. All consequential. Many provide a basis for not just undoing actions of the previous administration, but also making real advances in public policy to protect public health, safety, and the environment.

Read More Show Less


Melting ice forms a lake on free-floating ice jammed into the Ilulissat Icefjord during unseasonably warm weather on July 30, 2019 near Ilulissat, Greenland. Sean Gallup / Getty Images

A first-of-its-kind study has examined the satellite record to see how the climate crisis is impacting all of the planet's ice.

Read More Show Less
Probiotic rich foods. bit245 / iStock / Getty Images Plus

By Ana Maldonado-Contreras


  • Your gut is home to trillions of bacteria that are vital for keeping you healthy.
  • Some of these microbes help to regulate the immune system.
  • New research, which has not yet been peer-reviewed, shows the presence of certain bacteria in the gut may reveal which people are more vulnerable to a more severe case of COVID-19.

You may not know it, but you have an army of microbes living inside of you that are essential for fighting off threats, including the virus that causes COVID-19.

Read More Show Less
Michael Mann photo inset by Joshua Yospyn.

By Jeff Masters, Ph.D.

The New Climate War: the fight to take back our planet is the latest must-read book by leading climate change scientist and communicator Michael Mann of Penn State University.

Read More Show Less