• AFT has 1.7 million members across the country
  • President Randi Weingarten said teachers do not trust President Trump or Education Secretary Betsy DeVos to do the right thing when it comes to protecting the public from coronavirus
  • Weingarten told the union's biennial meeting 200 AFT members have died in the "line of duty" amid the pandemic

The American Federation of Teachers, the nation’s second largest teachers union, Tuesday threatened “safety strikes” if inadequate measures are taken in reopening schools amid the surging the coronavirus pandemic.

“Let’s be clear,” AFT President Randi Weingarten said in a keynote speech to the union’s biennial convention. “Just as we have done with our healthcare workers, we will fight on all fronts for the safety of our students and their educators. But if the authorities don’t get it right, and they 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 as a last resort, safety strikes.”

Teachers around the country have expressed concerns about the push by President Trump and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos to open schools for the fall term despite a lack of vaccine or widespread effective treatment for COVID-19. They have threatened to yank federal funds from any districts that do not open for in-person classes.

The National Education Association, the largest U.S. teachers union, has said reopening schools presents “unprecedented challenges” and recommended decisions be made on a district-by-district basis for the nation’s 16,000 districts.

There are some 3.2 million full-time-equivalent teachers for the nation’s nearly 51 million public school students.

Weingarten said 200 of AFT's 1.7 million members members have “died in the line of duty” during the pandemic and called on teachers to work against Trump’s reelection, accusing the president and DeVos of denying the seriousness of the pandemic, which has killed nearly 150,000 Americans.

Weingarten unveiled a resolution that says the union would back local strikes over coronavirus safety concerns. She said teachers want to return to their classrooms but are concerned the government hasn’t provided adequate funds to guarantee the safety of school buildings.

The AFT outlined a three-point plan for reopening school buildings, including low infection rates, adequate testing regimes and public health safeguards, along with the funds to pay for it.

“Why would anyone trust President Trump with reopening schools, when he has mishandled everything else about the coronavirus? Why would anyone trust Betsy DeVos, who has zero credibility about how public schools actually work? Why would anyone try to reopen schools through force and threats, without a plan and without resources, creating chaos – unless all they wanted was for it to fail?” Weingarten asked.

She said her members are “afraid and angry.”

“Many are quitting, retiring or writing their wills. Parents are afraid and angry, too,” she said.

The American Academy of Pediatrics has said it does not support reopening schools where public health advisories would indicate there’s a danger.

“Our nation’s response to COVID-19 has laid bare inequities and consequences for children that must be addressed,” the pediatrics group said, adding, “Local school leaders, public health experts, educators and parents must be at the center of decisions about how and when to reopen schools, taking into account the spread of COVID-19 in their communities and the capacities of school districts to adapt safety protocols to make in-person learning safe and feasible.”