During Coronavirus, Unions Resist New Demands on Teachers

By the time remote learning started in the nation’s largest school district in late March, many of the city’s roughly 75,000 teachers were already frustrated with New York’s leaders, who waited longer than those in some other major cities to close public schools. Then, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced that spring break, scheduled to begin in early April, would be canceled for schools across the state. (Many other places did the opposite, keeping or even extending their breaks.)

New York City’s teachers’ union, the United Federation of Teachers, held out hope that educators could still take off for Passover and Good Friday — and was furious when Mayor Bill de Blasio kept them on the job for those religious holidays.

“Never once during this crisis has the mayor thanked you for your service,” the union’s president, Michael Mulgrew, wrote in a scathing email to his members. “Instead, he diminishes your work by describing it only as a vehicle to keep children at home.”

Union officials said they were fighting to make sure New York’s teachers were not forced to work more in a day than the six hours and 20 minutes in their contracts. A politically progressive caucus within the union is calling on its leaders to push for “less academic work” during the coming months, and to lobby for a moratorium on student grades and teacher evaluations.

Other unions have fought for, and won, limits on teacher workloads. In Brevard County, east of Orlando, Fla., the union and district agreed in late March to limit teachers’ instructional time to three hours per day. The district also agreed that it would not require teachers to communicate with families using their personal cellphones, and that it would not formally evaluate teachers’ online instruction.

Earlier this month, a statewide union delivered a petition to Gov. Jared Polis of Colorado asking him to direct superintendents to bargain with local unions on expectations for remote teaching, and to reimburse educators for out-of-pocket expenses related to working online from home.

In Los Angeles Unified School District, the nation’s second largest, the local union has fought aggressively in recent weeks to protect teachers from what it called unreasonable demands on their time, such as long, repetitive remote staff meetings and inflexible schedules. The union and district announced an agreement to limit instruction and student support time to an average of four hours per day per teacher, and to limit staff meetings to one hour per week. Live teaching via video platforms will be encouraged, but not required.

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