Democrats’ newfound skepticism of lockdown puts them on a collision course with unions

In a change from 2020, Democrats are now speaking out against lockdown measures, even as the Omicron version leads to record-high case numbers across the US


The Biden administration and Democratic leaders from New York to Illinois are insisting that schools be kept open to students. However, the message has been met with pushback from some labor unions, who argue that staffing shortages and inadequate COVID-19 protocols make such a mission impossible.

Such a standoff occurred in Chicago, as teachers union voted to temporarily return to distance learning to help keep students and staff safe amid a surge in COVID-19 cases. Mayor Lori Lightfoot repeatedly described the move as “stopping illegal work” and district officials responded by canceling classes altogether.


Five days of classes for more than 340,000 students were canceled before Lightfoot announced a tentative deal was struck Wednesday to return to in-person instruction. The Democratic mayor celebrated the agreement, while the Chicago teachers union said they “prevented the collapse of health care” with the short quarantine.

Other unions across the country are also advocating for a temporary return to distance learning or stronger safety protocols.


Milwaukee Teacher Education Association President Amy Mizialco said new York Times That she anticipates fighting with local officials about possibly extending remote instruction. In San Francisco, the local teachers’ union is fighting for a more robust testing program.

“Learning is not normal,” said John Conaglio, president of the Columbus Education Association. newsweek, “We have massive staff absenteeism. For example, we have a high school today in which 21 staff members were absent and 15 of them were class teachers. That’s 75 periods that required some sort of sub or sub coverage it occurs.”

Conaglio continued: “All I would say is that strict instruction probably isn’t going on. So if politicians are selling the narrative that everything is normal in schools, it’s not. It’s not.”


The Columbus Education Association is calling for a two-week pause in person to allow district officials to secure proper masks, deep-clean buildings, and potentially repair HVAC systems.

Coneglio said the association is looking for local leaders and the business community to “pitch in” by providing services such as free meals and flexibility in the parent’s work schedule until virus cases drop to a manageable level. .

“It is a joint effort,” he said. “Schools are completely burdened while everyone else has to scoff at it.”


Despite the decline in membership over the past few decades, union members are still a powerful constituency. Exit polls showed that Union houses had 20 percent of the national electorate in the last presidential election.

Members of the Chicago Teachers Association and their supporters participate in a car caravan around City Hall to protest in-person learning at Chicago Public Schools on January 10, 2022 in Chicago, Illinois. Democratic leaders are insisting that schools should be kept open to students, which could lead to a standoff with some unions.
Scott Olson / Getty Images

President Joe Biden won the majority of union voters in 2020, defeating Donald Trump by 56 to 40 percent. Biden surpassed Hillary Clinton’s Union Families’ stake in the 2016 presidential race by five points.

“The Democratic Party’s relationship with organized workers is very important,” said Dr. Peter Francia, director of the Center for Survey Research at East Carolina University and an expert on the role of unions in politics. newsweek,

Francia highlighted that Union houses were “particularly helpful” in major battleground states such as Michigan, where that type of house favored Biden over Trump by a 25-point margin.

Union support is important for candidates running for office, Francia said, because their support often leads to an increase in community volunteering. But he added that “the most obvious risk to Democrats if they continue to struggle with organized labor will be a disappointing turnout among union members in the 2022 election.”

“In this environment, Democrats will need every vote they can get,” Francia said. “If Labor doesn’t vote for Democrats in many states and districts where Union Families still make up a respectable portion of the electorate, then there might be for Democrats. [a] The long night of November 8th.”

Workers’ rights activists say that in order not to further breach their ties, Democrats need to heed unions’ voices on the best way to manage the pandemic.

Adam Shah, director of national policy at Jobs With Justice, said, “Workers have expertise in making their workplaces safe in ways that politicians and even health and safety experts don’t have. ” newsweek, “It’s important not just to say, ‘We support the workers,’ but to actually listen to them and make them sit at the table.”

Shah said the federal government must find ways other than vaccination to keep workers safe because its Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) vaccine-or-testing mandate for large employers faces many legal challenges.

“The Biden administration and mayors across the country really need to focus on making sure that the tests are free and that the masks are provided by the employer or the government,” he said.