Barbara Madeloni

It was a long time coming, but when 400 members of the Scranton Federation of Teachers marched out of the school board meeting Tuesday night singing “Solidarity Forever,” they were strike-ready.

Whose Safety? Our Safety!


The safety of the community as a whole requires vaccines and vaccine mandates. But conversations about mandates have stumbled over questions about the power of employers and the rights of workers.

When unions avoid taking a stand for vaccine requirements (or even support resistance to mandates) they fall into three traps.

Trap one says our priority is to represent the rights of individual workers. Trap two says we cannot abide conflict or strong disagreement among members. Trap three says only the boss can exercise the power to require safety on the job.

“This is not the agreement you deserve.”

So said Chicago Teachers Union President Jesse Sharkey, announcing that members had voted to accept a plan to return to school buildings.

Chicago teachers began returning to schools on February 11 after contentious negotiations over whether they would be forced to teach in person. While their district’s animosity was exceptional, many similar struggles for safety are being fought across the country.

We Need Democracy on the Job and in the Union, Too


Democracy is on everyone’s mind, after the presidential election and transition we’ve just weathered.

There’s the democracy we had to defend. Union members participated in all kinds of ways—from postal workers making sure the ballots were delivered, to UNITE HERE members canvassing Arizona and Georgia, to central labor councils calling for the results to be respected.

Then there’s the democracy we don’t have yet. The struggle to vote and have your vote counted has a long legacy in this country.

UPDATE, January 25: Chicago teachers announced the vote results yesterday: With 86 percent of members voting, 71 percent voted to work remotely, defying the order that would have sent K-8 educators back into schools today (a week ahead of their students). The vote also authorized a strike if the district should retaliate by locking educators out of access to the remote learning system through Google Classroom.

Today 915 of the 1,000 union educators in Brookline, Massachusetts, took part in a sickout demanding a six-foot distance between people in classrooms.

The district previously agreed to this safety requirement in a memorandum of understanding. But now it wants to allow the superintendent to change it.

“When they tried to give the superintendent unilateral control to change the distance, they tore up the MOU,” said Brookline Educators Union President Jessica Wender-Shubow.

It’s election eve and anxious voters are wondering not only who will receive the most votes, but also: Will those votes be counted? Will the people or the Supreme Court select the next president? Will Trump supporters move beyond intimidation to violence to suppress the vote?

Will we face a president who refuses to accept the results of the vote? Will we have to defend against a coup?

“Therefore, be it finally resolved that the Rochester Labor Council, AFL-CIO calls on the National AFL-CIO, all of its affiliate unions, and all other labor organizations in the United States of America to prepare for and enact a general strike of all working people, if necessary, to ensure a Constitutionally mandated peaceful transition of power as a result of the 2020 Presidential Elections.”

The pandemic has made me see more clearly why it works when workers get together to solve problems collectively.

With no public health system to access and a disorganized, inept, and neglectful response from the government, individuals have been cast out alone to deal with the pandemic. Decisions about working—and risking one’s health and safety—have become individual.

Workers at home are isolated and workers at worksites are afraid.