National teacher union supports strikes over reopening plans

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Fairfax County Public School buses are lined up at a maintenance facility in Lorton, Va., Friday, July 24, 2020. The nation's 10th largest school district plans an all-virtual start to the fall semester amid the Covid-19 pandemic. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

One of the nation's largest teachers unions is authorizing its members to strike if their schools plan to reopen without proper safety measures in the middle of the global pandemic.

The American Federation of Teachers, which represents 1.7 million school employees, issued a resolution on Tuesday saying it will support any local chapter that decides to strike over reopening plans.

In providing its blessing, the union is also offering local chapters access to its financial and legal resources as they navigate a return to the classroom. Union officials said they will provide legal support, communications support and staffing to local chapters that vote to strike.

Although the measure says strikes should be considered only as a "last resort," it lists conditions the organization wants met for schools to reopen. It says buildings should reopen only in areas with lower virus rates, and only if schools require masks, update ventilation systems and make changes to space students apart.

In announcing the measure, the union's president blasted President Donald Trump for pressuring schools to reopen even as the virus continues to surge. Randi Weingarten called Trump's response “chaotic and catastrophic," saying it has left teachers afraid.

“We will fight on all fronts for the safety of our students and their educators," Weingarten said. "But if authorities don’t protect the safety and health of those we represent and those we serve, as our executive council voted last week, nothing is off the table.”

The union's leaders approved the resolution Friday but announced it Tuesday at the group’s convention, which is being hosted online amid the pandemic.

The nation’s largest teachers union, the National Education Association, separately said its members will do “whatever it takes” to protect students.