Is UFT’s New Virtual Instruction Program a Strike-Break Risk?

Teacher unionists everywhere need to be aware of what is going on right now in Youngstown, Ohio. Teachers there are readying to strike, following a breakdown in contract negotiations. They had been offered an offensively low wage increase (2%), to name one of several reasons for the job action.

In return, Youngstown has found an odd way to break the strike. They aren’t hiring anyone new to take the teachers’ place. They’re setting up a virtual learning program, to be overseen only by a small group of administrators and teachers willing to cross the picket line. Edtech, it appears, is all that the City thinks is needed to keep kids learning while waiting for teachers’ strike funds to run out.

Of course, we don’t know if Youngstown’s strategy will work. Many parents in this union-proud town reportedly think sending their kids onto virtual platforms in the middle of a teachers strike is akin to them crossing a picket line. And no parent wants their 8-year old clicking through a computer module when they could be in person, learning from teachers right in front of them.

But, the fact of the matter is that Youngstown has found a way to weaponize Edtech as a strike-breaking tool. And that should give us pause. Because, as part of the 2022-2027 contract, we signed a deal with the DOE to co-produce a city-wide virtual instruction system that very well could make Youngstown’s look comparatively like a CDROM from the 1990s. And lest we forget old political history, Adams had previously stated his willingness to have as many as 400 students in a Zoom class. As nightmarish a scenario as this would be educationally speaking, the City certainly employs more than one non-UFT administrator per every 400 students.

Is it possible that New York would do the same as Youngstown if the UFT were readying to strike? Is it possible that the City might use the very tools we are being tasked to help create in order to break a strike down the road?

Perhaps, yes and perhaps, no. But, if it’s happening in Ohio, the bottom line is it could theoretically happen anywhere. You never know, after all, who will be Mayor 5, 10, or 20 years from now,

As SAG-AFRA fights to keep Hollywood from using AI replicas of actors in their stead, teachers must confront the digital threat to our own livelihoods. The UFT welcomed in the virtual instruction pandora’s box with open arms. It will be on us to use our vague committee powers to make sure what’s happening in Youngstown is never even remotely possible here.

-Nick Bacon, NAC Co-Chair and UFT Executive Board Member

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