Chicago Teachers Authorized A Strike. So Now What? | WBEZ
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Chicago Teachers Ready To Strike

Updated 5:20 pm Friday, Sept. 27

One day after Chicago teachers authorized a strike, the school district handed the union 40 pages worth of proposals.

This prompted the union on Friday to declare that the pressure of the vote worked, but bargaining team members expressed disappointment that the offers did not address “big transcendent issues,” such as class size limits and a demand for written commitments to increase social workers and nurses.

“Today was an important day,” said CTU President Jesse Sharkey. He said the union will take the weekend to consider the proposals. The next bargaining session is set for Tuesday. Talks are expected ever day next week except Monday.

Teachers this week voted in overwhelming numbers to authorize a strike, union officials announced late Thursday. The union is planning to set a strike date next Wednesday, likely to be in mid-October.

CTU leaders said 94% of members had voted in favor of a strike, surpassing the 75% threshold required by law.

On Friday, Sharkey said the school district made a proposal around the sticking point of pay for the roughly 2,000 members who are office clerks and teachers. Union leaders say the wages of these workers is so low that their children will qualify for free and reduced lunch.

But Sharkey said the school district continues to maintain it doesn’t have to bargain over class size and staffing. A state law, passed in 1995, which pertains only to the Chicago Teachers Union, limits what the school district has to bargain over. The mayor has pledged to increase the numbers of nurses and social workers but has been resistant to codifying that in the contract.

“It is almost like they are daring us to strike over these issues,” Sharkey said. He said the school district is “cowardly” for hiding behind a “discriminatory law.”

Sharkey has warned that if teachers strike, it could end up being a “massive labor movement” that could have ripple effects throughout the city. The CTU is timing the possible walkout with two other unions, one representing other school staff, such as security guards and custodians, and another representing Chicago Park District workers. Both of those unions already have voted to authorize a strike.

If all three unions strike at the same time, it would leave the city scrambling to offer parents places where their children can go while they are at work. In 2012 — the first strike in a quarter of a century — parks and schools were open and staff not represented by the CTU were available to watch children. The strike would affect about 299,400 children in 514 district-run schools. Another 62,000 students in charter or contract schools wouldn't be impacted.

The impact of a strike on students was on the mind of parents Friday morning.

“This will affect the children,” said Margarita Panora, a parent at Ruiz Elementary School on the Southwest side. “The students will stay behind and they won’t be able to recover the class time they’ll miss.” Many parents work, she added. “Not everyone is able to leave their kids with relatives or drop them off in alternative aftercare.”

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot and CPS CEO Janice Jackson continue to insist a deal is in reach. Lightfoot’s tone and rhetoric remained unchanged after the strike vote.

“I remain where I have been for six weeks, which is, we can get a deal done, we should get a deal done,” she said Friday. “It is in everybody’s best interest to make that happen and we are literally doing everything we can.”

On Thursday, she predicted dire consequences if teachers strike.

"Having a strike would be catastrophic for the learning environment for our kids and we can’t lose sight of that," Lightfoot said. She also argued that kids who are out of school are at greater risk of becoming victims or perpetrators of crimes.

After the vote Thursday, the two leaders issued a joint statement heralding their compensation offer and their commitment "to increasing critical support staff to record levels ... We are committed to doing everything we can to finalize a deal that is sustainable for all Chicagoans and for our city’s future, that respects our teachers, and continues our students’ record-breaking success for years to come.”

They describe their offer of a 16% raise over five years as generous and historic. On Friday, Lightfoot repeated that the school district is still looking for a counter to the compensation offer.

But given that state law prohibits the union from striking over issues outside of compensation and the length of contract, it’s unlikely the union will counter on salary until other demands are met.

“We are not going to settle money until teachers going into schools have an entire package of things that satisfy us,” Sharkey said.

This is the third time CTU has authorized a strike this decade. In 2016, 95.6% of the votes cast were in favor of strike authorization, though a deal was made before a walkout occurred. In 2012, the first Chicago teachers strike in a quarter of a century, nearly 90% of teachers voted to authorize a strike.

Sarah Karp covers education for WBEZ. Follow her on Twitter at @WBEZeducation and @sskedreporter.

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