Arizona School Teachers and Staff Fight Back against COVID

Image credit: Ross D. Franklin / AP

“At some point, we are going to have to come up with an acceptable casualty rate, and nobody wants to have that conversation.” These were the words of a school board member of a small Arizona district, commenting on the insane idea that schools should reopen despite the district and state not meeting the criteria laid out by their own state’s department of public health.

So, rather than just accept the risks involved for both themselves and students, teachers and other education workers in that district decided enough was enough. They were going to use the best method they have for stopping the madness – refusing to work.

The actions of education workers in J.O. Combs School District, outside of Phoenix, forced the district to halt its reopening plans. By late Friday afternoon, 109 of 600 education workers had already called in sick, effectively disabling the ability of the district to function. Later that day, the superintendent admitted that the schools didn’t have the staff to function effectively, and cancelled all plans for in-person learning.

This wasn’t an officially called strike, just an informal action by teachers and other workers themselves. While only a small district, and even though the “sick-outers” are only about 20 percent of the schools’ staff, this action gives us a sense of the potential power of workers.

We make society function – in schools, offices, utilities, trains, buses, factories, mines, stores, construction, restaurants, and thousands of other workplaces. We can save lives, even when our political leaders don’t care. We don’t have to leave these decisions up to them!

If only 20 percent of the workers in one workplace can bring the system to a halt, imagine what would happen if half of us refused to work. Or three-quarters.

We have power! Let’s organize ourselves and use it!