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A teacher strike is possible says the American Federation of Teachers

Protest sign reading "Teachers and students deserve safe classrooms." Photo: KSL-TV

SALT LAKE CITY– It’s no secret. Educators around the country are concerned about going back to the classroom, and it’s no different here. Teachers in Utah have expressed feeling uneasy about returning to school in the era of the coronavirus pandemic.

School districts around Utah are still unsure where exactly school will take place in the fall. The Utah Educators Association recommended starting school remotely until appropriate safety measures are finalized and COVID-19 cases lower.  

Now, members of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), one of the biggest teachers unions in the country, are ready to conduct a teacher strike if school districts don’t reopen with adequate safety precautions in place. The AFT represents nearly 2 million educators, faculty, and staff nationwide.  

President of the American Federation of Teachers Utah, Brad Asay, joined Jeff Caplan’s Afternoon News on KSL NewsRadio to explain why teachers are willing to stand on the picket line in a teacher strike.  

Safety concerns for school faculty and staff 

There are a handful of precautions the ATF wants school districts to take before returning to the building. 

For starters, “masks, shields for teachers and students, hand sanitizing stations, and special work accommodations for those who are at-risk or feel like they would be at risk if they teach,” said Asay. 

However, those preventative measures don’t solve the largest problem. 

“The biggest issue,” said Asay “is the physical distancing of 6 feet and accommodating that in the classroom.”

And it’s not just about the classroom. Asay noted the inability to physically distance especially worries bus drivers.  

“It [physical distancing] concerns bus drivers because you can’t social distance on a school bus,” said Asay. 

Another concern the union has is proper ventilation that circulates fresh air throughout the building. “Right now, ventilation systems will consist of teachers opening windows,” said Asay. 

Will Utah teachers strike? 

As of right now, it’s unlikely Utah ATF members will strike going back to school. 

“We don’t foresee this [going on strike] happening,” said Asay. “Teachers want to get back.” Asay added that staff members want to get back to work out of fear of losing their job. 

On a national union level, the ATF views striking as the last option. “I know the national resolution [is that striking] is the last resort if some things are not put in place across the country,” said Asay. 

Most of all, Asay said, teachers in Utah just want a plan and to know what is going to happen in the fall.