Chicago Teachers Take Wildcat Action in the Face of Unsafe COVID Conditions

Report from Chicago IWW about recent wildcat strike actions by Chicago area teachers in the face of unsafe working conditions.

Submitted by R Totale on January 9, 2021

This week, pre-kindergarten and diverse learning staff at Chicago Public Schools were obligated to return to their school buildings. The planning for this return was not bargained over in any capacity between the mayor-appointed CPS administrators and Chicago Board of Education, the Chicago Teachers Union, and the Chicago Principals & Administrators Association—let alone students, families, and communities most affected by the reopening.

Roughly half of CPS staff asked to return refused to do so on Monday, January 4th—without the prompting or approval of their union. In response to this ultimately unsafe forced return, thousands of CPS workers asserted their contractual and legal right to a healthful workplace by “sicking out” or continuing to clock in and teach remotely this week. Some staffs staged “teach-ins” outside of their school buildings, in subfreezing temperatures and snow, engaging with students and community members both in person and digitally to explain the dangers of CPS’s hybrid learning plan. You can watch a short interview with two teachers here.


A direct action organized strictly by rank-and-file workers without the authorization of a union—whether the workers have legally-recognized union representation or not—is known as “wildcat” organizing. Usually, this takes the form of a work stoppage or slowdown.

Wildcat actions often violate official bargaining terms previously negotiated between bosses and unions, specifically due to the fact that union leadership has either failed to take action or are prevented from doing so. They are usually not attached to contract negotiations, and typically take place without any notice given to the boss.


Chicago teachers, though they are represented by the Chicago Teachers Union, undertook a variety of direct action tactics this week without union authorization. Due to the pending nature of arbitration over return to school buildings, CTU’s hands were and are tied legally as far as calling for actions—additionally, there would need to be a democratic vote taken over any union-wide work stoppage or slowdown. CPS and its unelected, mayor-appointed school board have worked to disenfranchise and endanger rank and file workers. These workers emboldened by the strong solidarity and militant nature of their union, organized on their own time and their own dime in order to protect themselves, their students, and their communities.

The struggle will only continue for Chicago teachers and school staff. Pre-kindergarten and diverse learning students are slated to return to their buildings on Monday, January 11th with kindergarten through 8th grade students returning at the beginning of February. Stand with Chicago Public Schools teachers and staff as they fight for safe schools and healthy communities.