While New York City’s teachers union has threatened to strike if schools reopen in three weeks before they feel assured of their safety amid the COVID-19 pandemic — the actual strike plans remain vague, some union members said.

The United Federation of Teachers held borough-wide phone meetings for chapter leaders Friday and Monday, but without offering detailed plans on how to execute a strike, said Jia Lee, a chapter leader and special education teacher in Manhattan.

Instead, these massive phone conferences among 400-500 chapter leaders focused on rousing people to be "mentally prepared" for a strike, according to Lee, who is also a member of the activist MORE caucus within the union.

"We need to talk to our members, talk about the potential for a big action," Lee said.

New York’s Taylor Law makes it illegal for public sector employees to strike, with penalties including loss of pay and even potentially jail time for union leaders.

The MORE caucus of the teacher’s union is rallying its membership by laying out the historical context of benefits won through striking: “However, our union’s strength was built by illegal strikes,” according to a message posted on its website. “The UFT went on strike in 1960, 1962, 1967, 1968, and 1975. All of those strikes were illegal and many of them helped us win the strong contractual protections we have today.”

Dick Riley of the UFT said there have been no updates beyond what union president Michael Mulgrew said last week when he first raised the possibility of strikes. “If we feel that a school is not safe, we are prepared to go to court and to take a job action,” Mulgrew said last week.

The union is asking the city to delay school reopening — which is tentatively scheduled for September 10th, though no official first day of school has been announced — and to agree to requests such as mandatory testing for all students, teachers and staff who would be in school buildings under Mayor Bill de Blasio’s blended learning plan.

On Wednesday, de Blasio said the union actually opposed mandatory testing until reversing course last week. “Honestly, it was not something the union was looking for or was comfortable with for quite a while,” de Blasio said in his press briefing. “So we’re going to continue in dialogue with them about the best way to keep everyone safe and we’re moving forward.”

Chalkbeat pointed out that the mere mention of teacher strikes has been enough to prod other districts into changing their plans: “But just discussing a strike or mobilizing teachers in other ways can be powerful: In other cities, union concerns have prompted districts to reconsider their in-person learning plans.”

Lee said MORE are advocating for strike demands to include more funding for schools from the state and calling for Governor Andrew Cuomo to implement the Billionaire's Tax and Worker Bailout Fund to help struggling schools. "We are already under-resourced. There are revenues we can tap into,” Lee said, adding their goal this week is to field questions at their buildings, like how striking could affect untenured teachers under the Taylor Law, pensions, and the logistics of striking during a pandemic.

Another teacher in an elementary school in south Brooklyn, who didn’t want to be identified because she is not authorized to speak to the media, said the UFT’s lack of recent activist experience leads her to believe the union is using the strike as a pressure tactic.

“What me and some other organizers are doing is trying to start to talk to our colleagues, trying to surface the questions, trying to look at other cities, what they've done to successfully bring parents and community members and teachers together,” she said. “We have very little time and these movements take years, so we're kind of figuring it out as we go.”

“We haven't had a strike in decades, and the current UFT management is certainly not an activist union and there hasn't been a lot of involvement in rank and file members,” the Brooklyn teacher added. “There are certainly people who are not activated, so maybe this is part of the campaign to get the rest of the city to understand.”