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Chicago Teachers Are Voting on Whether to Defy Monday’s Reopening Order

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Delegates of the Chicago Teachers Union have just sent a referendum to members: shall we all work remotely starting Monday, January 25?

That’s the date when many were assigned to return to schools. If the district retaliates, delegates will reconvene to take a strike vote.

The plan was voted up by a large majority in an emergency meeting. It’s CTU’s boldest official move yet against reopening; the union has had to walk a difficult legal line.

But militancy has bubbled up from the rank and file. The members who were assigned to return in earlier waves of the mayor’s divisive reopening plan have been organizing their own resistance actions, school by school.

With the pandemic death toll in the U.S. now more than 400,000, Covid positivity rates in Chicago have climbed above 10 percent—double the target rate the city has set for itself—and in some neighborhoods, 15 percent. Yet the city is trying to force its educators back into classrooms.

RESISTING DIVISION

Clerks were ordered back into the school buildings last fall, followed January 4 by pre-K and special needs educators, followed January 11 by their students, to be followed by an ongoing rollout of returns by grade level.

Educators applying for accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act due to their own vulnerabilities or those of household members have been rejected at alarming rates.

The entire system is designed to push individuals to make choices for themselves—do I try to get an ADA exemption, or brave the reopening, or quit?—rather than as a collective. But educators are working through these challenges.

Ana Bolotin, a special education teacher, said she was one of many teachers “who felt alone and did not know how to proceed as we were facing bullying from CPS.” She connected via Facebook with others from across the district who were ready to refuse to go into buildings. “Because of the pandemic, we didn’t know each other in real life. All of the relationships were forged virtually,” said Bolotin.

The group called a Zoom meeting, attended by 30 people, and talked about how they could organize to refuse to enter. Their next meeting had 100. These meetings were designed to support people to go back out and organize actions at their own schools.

LOCKED OUT

Staff members at Brentano Math and Science Academy decided that, beginning on January 4—the date they were ordered back—they would bring their laptops and teach from outside the school building.

And that’s what they did, despite below-freezing temperatures. “We are all scared,” said Pre-K teacher Kirsten Roberts. “All of our families have been directly impacted by Covid—by loss and illness.”

So far only pre-K and special needs educators had been called back, but other Brentano teachers turned up throughout the day to support them.

The next day when Roberts attempted to log on to Google Classroom, she was denied access—to her students, her email, and her pay. Management had blocked her.

At Suder Montessori, educators bought their own protective gear and used a CTU-provided checklist to do safety inspections. Educators at other schools donned masks during remote learning so that parents would have a better idea of what students would be experiencing in the classroom.

Some planned to get appointments to test before returning to school, which would require them to stay out of buildings until the results came back negative.

News reports suggest up to 60 percent of the educators who were told to return did not enter their buildings on the first day back.

That’s when Chicago Public Schools (CPS) announced it would be cutting off access to remote teaching for any educators like Roberts who were, by district rules, supposed to be inside. As of this writing, some are still locked out; an end to the lockout has been added to the union’s demands.

Still the organizing continued. The key, said Bolotin, “was brainstorming ways to increase solidarity and help people see that individual educators needed to support each other.”

STILL NOT SAFE

Mayors, governors, and other policymakers across the country continue to insist that schools are not sites of Covid infection, even as growing evidence suggests they are wrong. A study in the medical journal The Lancet noted that previous studies showing low or no school transmission had missed asymptomatic students and included schools with low attendance.

Recent reports from around the world suggest that open schools strongly correlate with hospitalizations and community spread. England, Germany, and South Korea initially reopened schools, but have since closed them again in the face of rising positivity rates.

But here in the U.S., where the government has been slow to provide relief for workers, policymakers continue to beat the school-reopening drum. That means educators’ lives are being put at risk—along with the lives of students and their families.

Many of the arguments made for reopening school buildings speak only to the health of students. And some of the most-cited reports of successful reopenings in the U.S. ignore the measures taken—smaller class sizes, robust testing and contact tracing—that are absent in most U.S. schools.

NO GOOD OPTIONS

Organizing against the reopenings has been tough for unions. Educators want to do what’s best for students, and everyone can see how inadequate remote teaching is—especially when many families have limited WiFi access and parents are juggling work and childcare. The stream of mixed messages about school transmission hasn’t helped.

CTU has been demanding testing, contact tracing, vaccinations for educators and other school staff, and the enforcement of safety protocols such as adequate protective gear, air-quality systems, and cleaning schedules before educators go back into the buildings.

The union has been holding virtual town halls with educators and providing checklists for building safety. It has garnered the support of 33 aldermen to say it’s not safe to reopen the buildings. Meanwhile, Mayor Lori Lightfoot has refused to negotiate with CTU about the reopening plan.

The Illinois legislature recently passed a law which would make many of the issues involved in reopening mandatory subjects of bargaining. The measure would repeal a section of the Illinois Educational Relations Act passed in 1995 that has allowed the district to refuse to bargain with the union over issues including class sizes, layoffs, subcontracting, and charter schools. That law is now sitting on the governor’s desk, waiting to be signed.

COMPETING FEARS

For Dennis Kosuth, a school nurse and Roberts’ partner, solidarity has meant working with members who were both afraid of getting sick and afraid of the district, in varying degrees. “We don’t trust CPS,” he said. So organizing required “finding the place where the person’s fear about the virus and readiness to risk their job met.”

To start, Kosuth struck out alone. He started doing his work outside the school building—checking on students, completing paperwork—and livestreamed it. Over the course of a week, more and more educators stopped by to show support. For him, the present challenge for organizers is, “How do we lead without getting out ahead?” 

Kosuth was one of 150 Chicago school nurses who signed a letter to the district saying that schools are unsafe. National Nurses United and the Illinois Nurses Association have backed up their concerns.

While the district is trying to pit parents and teachers against each other, Roberts said the message from the union to students’ families is: “We are exactly like you as workers. We want for you what we want for ourselves.”

‘OUR ONLY POWER’

At the end of the second week of forced return, some CTU members took personal days off and led a car caravan though the streets of Chicago to City Hall and the homes of members of the Board of Education while a board meeting was in session.

“Lori Lightfoot and the Board of Education seem to want there to be a corrosive atmosphere,” said Roberts. “In any rational world we would have collaboration. But they are creating a situation where our only power is to show them they cannot run the schools without us.”

Now the proposed January 25 stay-at-home is up to a member vote. A strike threat forced the city’s handback in August and kept schools remote.

Under Illinois law, public sector unions are banned from striking while under a collective bargaining agreement. CTU’s contract expires in 2024. The law also bans the city from locking workers out.

If CTU were to strike, it would be a safety strike. That, notes Roberts, would be uncharted territory.

But so are 4,000 deaths a day.

This blog originally appeared at Labor Notes on January 21, 2021. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Barbara Madeloni is Education Coordinator at Labor Notes and a former president of the Massachusetts Teachers Association.


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Remote Work, Office Location and Employee Satisfaction: Considerations for the Modern Workplace

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It’s no surprise that today’s workplaces have evolved. From digital innovations to culture shifts, you and your colleagues need to form a plan so that you’re not left behind. Fortunately, you can easily make changes to ensure your team’s successful transition to modern methods.

Take a look at different considerations for your company.

1. Allow Employees to Work Remotely

It wasn’t until recently that businesses started to allow employees to work from home more frequently. This option used to be rare — but remote work trends are more prominent than ever due to COVID-19. In many cases, it’s become a permanent situation for workers.

A switch to remote work has lead to positive changes for numerous organizations. This setup allows employees to feel like they have more responsibility. They view projects as more worthwhile as a result. Plus, you’ll find that workers are happier because they don’t have to commute or manage office politics.

If your company doesn’t offer remote work possibilities, you won’t appeal to recruits. This opportunity has become standard. Therefore, you need to work with teams to implement a dedicated program for remote work. Then, your employees will have a choice.

2. Reconsider Office Locations, Amenities and More

Your company’s office locations make a difference. It’s essential to find a spot that works for your employees and clients as much as possible. You may not be able to fully meet your budget, amenities and other “wants,” but you should try as you explore potential leases.

It may not always be possible to move from one office to another. But if your company wants to look for a new space, you should consider location as a “need.” Is it close to public transportation? Can your employees access parking? Do security concerns exist? Your team needs to weigh various factors.

The same approach applies to aspects like amenities and layout. Do your best to create a business checklist that outlines everyone’s goals. As a result, your company will be better equipped to perform proficiently.

3. Gauge What Employees Want for Satisfaction

Do you know what to do to increase employee satisfaction? The expectations your employees have will likely fluctuate as times change. You need to make an effort to identify their desires so that you can meet them halfway. It’s not enough to offer decent benefits and large paychecks.

Today’s workplace trends revolved around culture. Your workers need to know that their company commits to long-term goals rather than revenue. An emotional connection between you and your employees makes a difference. Additionally, it’s increasingly clear that Generation Z wants employers to implement ethical practices.

Make an Effort to Listen

Your business needs to listen. How do your employees want your overall culture to look? It may seem challenging to overhaul your company’s current state. That said, you need to realize that recruits need more than digital touches and supportive training. They want their jobs to reflect a bigger purpose.

An effective way to start would be to poll your workers. Let them have a say in how you choose to proceed with culture shifts. A more democratic method allows everyone’s voice to be heard. As a result, your employees will feel more appreciated and comfortable.

These Ideas Are What a Company Should Think About for the Modern Workplace

There’s no denying that workplace trends continue to change. If you want to move your company forward, you have to consider what’s next. Elements like remote work, office location and employee satisfaction all contribute to a more advanced, modernized company.

About the Author: Ginger Abbot is an education writer with a special interest in career development and the workplace. She is also the Editor-in-Chief of Classrooms.com, where you can read more of her writing.


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How to Help Employees Adjust To Remote Work

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With a global pandemic raging on, most of us have started working remotely from the safety and security of our homes. However, the transition from physical work to remote work hasn’t been easy. Remote working has loads of benefits, such as no office distractions, no frustrating commute, no colleagues interrupting your workflow, etc.

However, there are a few things that you need to do in order to help your employees adjust to remote work. If you work remotely, it is no longer easy to keep your personal and professional life separate – you are susceptible to working longer hours and more likely to be stressed.

What are the Difficulties Faced in Remote Work

  • Isolation

Remote work sounds enticing but it comes with its fair share of challenges and issues. One of the biggest issues with remote work is isolation. With COVID-19 wrecking havoc in our lives and most of us being under lockdown, the deficit in human interaction is already being felt by all of us.

The camaraderie of working in your office, chatting with your colleagues, etc. is something which we are all missing.

  • Issues with Virtual Communication

Want to ask your colleague something? Having an issue with the project that you are currently working on and need some help? We all are used to wandering over someone else’s desk and getting the help that we need.

For most of us, work communication went from face-to-face to over-the-internet overnight. This forced everyone to adopt complex working structures that led to dissonance and confusion. Where should we send the updates? Should we email it to our supervisor or should we start a Slack thread? All these and a million other questions, with no one, to answer them clearly!

Helping Employees Adjust to Remote Work

Even though the management needs to take care of the individual needs of the employees, a couple of things are very important to ensure that all of the employees are on the same page and are facing no difficulties while working from home. It comes under your managerial responsibilities to provide the best workplace environment to your employees.

  • Establishing Clear Communication Structure

The ways you communicate with your employees need to be clearly set. Email and Slack updates aren’t enough – you need to supplement them with video conferences regularly. However, don’t go overboard with these but do keep them a part of your workweek so that the employees will be able to chat in real-time and interact with each other regarding any issues.

Make sure that your employees know how to use the virtual communication tools and they are not lagging behind due to lack of knowledge.

  • Frequent Check-Ins

The most ideal way of ensuring that your employees are alright is by checking in with them regularly. Don’t be overbearing – just give them a daily call, or set calls throughout the week to ensure that they are working properly and aren’t facing any difficulties. It is very important to ensure that you providing all the workplace rights to your employees while they work remotely.

  • Offer encouragement and support

You need to remember that your employees have just gone through a shift – a shift that hasn’t been easy for most of them. Keep in contact with your team and connect with them on an emotional level. Ask them if they are facing any issues and if you can help them in any way, don’t hesitate to provide your services.

However, you have to ensure that you are not crossing any workplace professional boundaries at the same time.

  • Ensure Social Interaction

In physical workplaces, employees get to interact with each other due to a multitude of reasons. Even the mere task of getting coffee from the office kitchen will allow you the opportunity to talk to your colleagues. Such opportunities don’t exist when you are working remotely from home and for those of us who are extroverts, this can be crushing.

However, as an employer, it is your obligation to ensure that your employees are virtually socializing. It can something as minute as keeping the last 10 minutes of a meeting to talk about what you are doing to hosting a virtual pizza party where all of you have pizza together and video chat.

With the help of these few tips and tricks, you can ensure that your employees are adjusting to remote work easily.

Happy Working, Folks!

About the Author: Alina Burakova is a life coach and she loves helping people figure out ways out of their problems. She also reviews the best online tutoring, resume, business plan writing and test prep services at EduReviewer and has an avid interest in reading & writing.


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How Workplace Rights Could Change for Remote Workers

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Knowing your workplace rights protects you 

In every civil society, certain rights have been put in place to guarantee equity and fairness for all. The same goes for every workplace. Every employee has certain rights that they are entitled to that provide a safe and non-toxic environment where they can thrive and excel. These rights affect diverse aspects of workplace ethics in relation to the employee. This includes pay, health, safety, bullying at work, discrimination, entitlements, breaks, and much more.

As an employee, it is vital that you know and understand:

  • The terms and conditions of your employment. 
  • Your rights to health and safety, and against bullying and discrimination.
  • Your access to precautionary gear and safety equipment.
  • And most importantly, where to get help if any of the workplace challenges listed above arise.

Having substantial knowledge of these rights can protect you if the situation arises. 

Are you treated fairly as a remote worker? 

How Can the Workplace Rights of a Remote Worker Change?

With recent global developments, advancement in technology, and ongoing world crises, the need for many more employers and their employees to create a remote working arrangement, both formally and informally has arisen. More arrangements have been made to cater to and support a large percentage of workers to work remotely.

But do these developments truly benefit remote workers? Does it cater to their rights as workers or have their workplace rights been sidelined? In cases like this, it is easy for a lot of employers to get carried away with the concept of remote work, that they fail to extend the appropriate workplace rights to their employees. Many workplace rights and privileges were created to mainly cater to workers in the physical workspace and therefore, tend to leave out virtual workers. 

What this means in essence, is that:

  • Typical rights such as access to health and safety may be cut off or reduced since they may no longer report to the office.
  • Suitability of the worker’s remote working environment for their type of work may not be considered.
  • Discrimination or stereotyping (which may affect decision-making) may occur against those that work remotely.
  • Breach of employee privacy may occur due to excessive surveillance from the company.
  • There may be blurred lines between work hours and off-hours (instigated by the employer) since the employee now works virtually. 

This should not be so because rights in the workplace should cover all employees, not only those at the physical workspace. Remote workers have workplace rights and entitlements just as well as the employee who reports at the office. 

Knowing your Rights as a Remote Worker

Before you begin to examine your rights as a remote worker, it is important that you meet the standards of a remote worker as recognized by many companies. A remote worker is someone who works outside of a traditional office. This could be anywhere, your bedroom, favorite coffee shop, or lounging by the poolside. What matters is that the job gets done. If this description fits you, take a look at these important rights you ought to know and exercise as a remote worker.

  1. You have the right to a private life and family life. Although your employer has the right to monitor you, you must be adequately informed and aware of it. This covers emails, internet access, telephone calls, data, and images. 
  2. You have the right to see any information that has been recorded about you.
  3. You have the right to adequate health care and safety support from your employer.
  4. You have the right to reasonable working hours and at least 20minutes of rest breaks.
  5. You have the right to a standard employment contract.
  6. You have the right to the enjoyment of just and favorable conditions of work.

In conclusion

As a remote worker, always remember that it is within your right to request for fairness in any working condition. Employers and HR need to work together to ensure that the welfare of every employee is adequately catered to. This would create a balance in workplace rights for all types of workers, remote or not. 

Alex Capozzolo is the owner of the Brotherly Love Real Estate blog and a content writer for the real estate industry. Our focus is on helping people through one of the most important investment decisions of their lifetime by seamlessly providing fast, honest and professional real estate services.

About the Author: Alex Capozzolo is the co-owner of Brotherly Love Real Estate.


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Rights, Responsibilities, and Recommendations for Remote Work Under COVID-19 Restrictions

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The coronavirus pandemic and resulting global quarantine have changed the way all we live and work, and it’s unclear when the lockdown will lift. You might be among the thousands of workers caught off-guard as employers made a hasty transition to remote work — and even now, weeks later, you might still be struggling to catch up.  Even if you’re a work-from-home veteran, you’ve likely never done it under social distancing conditions. 

Whatever your work-from-home situation, questions arise: How much leeway do I have in balancing my family’s needs against my employer’s? How do I stay focused and maintain my workload? And how do I establish some normalcy amid all these worries and distractions? While not all questions are answerable yet, here are some factors to consider about your rights and responsibilities as a new remote worker, as well as basic recommendations to help you catch up to the learning curve and work from home productively during the quarantine.

Emergency Preparation And Response

In addition to a global health emergency, the COVID-19 pandemic is causing unprecedented economic failure around the world. While nobody can accurately predict the full scope of the effects on the world’s economy, experts agree on basic measures that can help you prepare to meet the financial challenges that lie ahead:

  • Assemble important documents. In addition to putting together a disaster preparedness kit with materials and supplies, it’s recommended that you assemble a legal and financial emergency packet. Locate and make copies of the following: 
    • Identification documents for each family member (including pets) – birth certificates, Social Security cards, passports, picture IDs
    • Financial documents – bank account info, tax returns, pay stubs
    • Insurance information – copies of cards and policies
    • Info on bills and other financial obligations – rental and payment agreements
  • Assess and get control over your finances. A clear picture of your financial situation is more necessary now than ever, even if the news is bad as a result of the coronavirus. Now is the time to look into the following areas and take steps to repair any weak spots:
  • Analyzing your spending and cutting out nonessential expenditures 
  • Revising your household budget to accommodate a drop in income or a rise in expenses 
  • Establishing an emergency fund with 3-6 months’ worth of expenses 
  • Enacting measures to monitor, repair, and build your credit rating in anticipation of needing to borrow money
  • Negotiating better interest rates or payback arrangements with lenders or cardholders 

Workplace Considerations

Companies that once pled ignorance or incompetence at initiating work-from-home policies have learned in a hurry how to make it happen. But this haste has made for a transition that’s not always smooth, logistically or legally. Consider these elements when you’re navigating the work-from-home learning curve:

  • Set yourself up online. Reliable internet access is the key to staying in touch not only with your boss, colleagues, and/or clients, but also with news sources, family, friends, and the rest of the world. Equip your home with secure, reliable Wi-Fi internet access, plus a virtual private network, or VPN, if your company offers it. (Start with this step because, especially in a crisis, it may take some time.) 
  • Sort out your tech. Make sure your workspace has all the technology you need to function. You’ll likely be meeting via video conferencing, so don’t forget your webcam and microphone if it’s not already built-in. Load all the software you need for operations, communication, recordkeeping, etc., onto your computer at home. If you’re set up with a cloud storage account, your work files should be secure and accessible from anywhere.
  • Know that your productivity might be monitored. You should be aware that about half of all big companies use some kind of monitoring software for work-from-home employees, so workers won’t treat this stressful time as “one big vacation.” Keystroke monitors, attention checks for screen-sharing functions, and employer access to Slack conversations, while they create some civil liberty concerns, are nonetheless common.  

Uncertainty is the rule during this crisis, and the only promising way to meet it is with caution, preparation, and resolution. An awareness of our rights and responsibilities — and of our human capacity for cooperation in times of greatest need — can bring us through this crisis together.

Printed with permission.

About the Author: Molly Barnes is a full-time digital nomad. She works remotely, travels constantly, and explores different cities across the U.S. She started her site, www.digitalnomadlife.org as a resource for travelers, nomads, and remote workers. Molly writes resources that help office and remote workers alike reach their personal and professional goals of becoming more successful. Follow along with her and her boyfriend Jacob on their blog as they pursue a nomadic lifestyle while freelancing and traveling across the country.


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