Arbitrator rules CPS schools unsafe for school clerks, other workers

A heightened risk of contracting COVID-19 in school buildings violates the district’s promise to provide “safe and healthful” working conditions, the arbitrator found.

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The closing of CPS schools has long-lasting effects on students and should lead to hard conversations about the cost of closing and disinvesting in public schools.

Students have not returned to CPS schools, and an arbitrator ruled Friday that they are unsafe for clerks and other employees, as well.

Sun-Times file

Chicago Public Schools are unsafe for school clerks and other employees, an arbitrator ruled Friday.

Arbitrator Jeanne Charles found that requiring school clerks and other employees to report to Chicago Public School buildings increases the risk of contracting COVID-19, and that increased risk of infection violates the school district’s contract to provide “safe and healthful” working conditions.

“The only way to eliminate the risk of COVID-19 infection and death is for School Clerks, School Clerk Assistants, and Technology Coordinators to work remotely,” Charles said in her decision.

She directed the Chicago Board of Education to allow these employees to do all work remotely when possible.

The Chicago Teachers Union raised the complaint against the school board Aug. 21, arguing that requiring school clerks and other employees to work full time inside schools violates the condition of providing “safe and healthful working conditions.”

“The path to a truly safe reopening of our school buildings is through engagement with parents, talking to school communities and negotiating with the educators who know these schools best,” said CTU President Jesse Sharkey. “We expect CPS to move immediately to protect the rest of our members in buildings by allowing them to begin working remotely today, as those workers did effectively from March through August.”

CPS spokesman Michael Passman said in a statement the district is “deeply disappointed” in the ruling. The district is “evaluating its options” and will communicate with CPS staff “in the near future,” Passman said.

“There is nothing more important than the health and safety of everyone who enters our school buildings,” Passman said. “Under the flawed logic presented by the arbitrator, no workplace in the country would be safe at this time, which defies the best available public health guidance and outcomes.”

CPS and CTU have two days to reach an agreement allowing these workers to work remotely for all duties that don’t require being in school buildings.

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