A tense day filled with accusations and counter-accusations ended on Tuesday without a Chicago teachers contract deal, leaving students out of class for a tenth day.
In a late afternoon meeting with union leaders, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot tried to end the teachers strike by sweetening the city’s contract offer.
The move was intended to get a deal approved by the union’s delegates at an already scheduled meeting for Tuesday night. But union leadership said they didn’t have enough time to digest the offer in order to recommend that delegates approve it and call off the strike.
Instead, delegates will take a summary of contract offers from the school district and discuss them with colleagues at picket lines Wednesday.
CTU President Jesse Sharkey said the union wants members to tell them if the offer on the table is acceptable.
“It is going to have to be, we are going to look at an agreement and say ‘yup, that will address my concerns about school. I will be able to walk in with my head held up high and be secure in the understanding that we made a difference,’” Sharkey said after the union met with its elected delegates Tuesday night to update them.
The school district had suggested delegates could take a vote to call off the strike on Tuesday evening but that did not happen.
One issue that will surely come up with teachers as they review the latest offer is the failure to reach an agreement on a key union demand: adding 30 more minutes of prep time for elementary teachers. The mayor has been adamantly opposed, saying that will cut into student instruction time.
Sharkey said the union plans to go back to the bargaining table Wednesday to try to hammer out details on some remaining sticking points.
If they reach a tentative agreement Wednesday, he said they’ll call delegates to a meeting to vote on it and call off the strike.
Tuesday’s delegates meeting came after Lightfoot said she had met with union leaders for more than three hours that day.
At a new conference, Lightfoot repeated her assertion that the city had given the union all it had asked for — including a written commitment to add 209 social workers and 250 nurses — and now all the CTU had to do was say “yes.”
She and Schools CEO Janice Jackson said the city had upped its offer for overcrowding relief from $25 million to $35 million and had added $5 million to boost pay for veteran teachers.
She said the contract dispute was down to three demands that she refused to accept.
The first is about adding elementary school teacher prep time. The mayor is opposed because she says this would reduce instructional time for students. The other two are political: the union wants her support for its favored elected school board bill and legislation that would expand the number of issues the union can bargain and strike over.
At the news conference, Jackson also made clear that if there is no deal by Nov 1, Chicago Teachers Union members will lose their health insurance for the month. Strikers would then have to pay out of pocket a higher premium. If insurance is cut, medical bills could be covered retroactively when the plan is reinstated.
Earlier in the day, the teachers union accused the mayor of standing in the way of a deal.
Going into negotiations on Monday, the union had said that they were still seeking $38 million more to reduce class size and increase staff. At about 2 a.m., when negotiations ended, CTU’s lawyer Robert Bloch said the distance between the two sides on money had narrowed and the mayor had a proposal on her desk that “provided a path to a settlement.”
But Monday morning Davis Gates said the mayor turned it down.
“I am befuddled. I am dumbfounded I am almost speechless,” Davis Gates said. “Her team settled it last night. She rejected it.”
The mayor rejected that as a “patently false” and again blamed the CTU for the hold up.
Davis Gates also defended the importance of prep time. She said it is only fair that teachers get paid for time they work. Right now, she said they have little time in the school day to grade papers, call parents and collaborate with other teachers.
“When the mayor says no to preparation time it means that we have special education teachers on a Sunday night uploading work into a system at 2 a.m. in the morning,” she said. “It means that elementary school teachers are at home at a dining room table getting work done. There's no other profession where we have the expectation that they do work for free on their own time.”
Also Tuesday, nine striking teachers were arrested after they refused to leave the offices of Sterling Bay, the developer of the Lincoln Yards mega-project that has been a target of the Chicago Teachers Union.
A group of demonstrators locked arms and blocked the entrance to Sterling Bay's offices at 1330 W. Fulton St. while another group staged a sit-in inside. Chicago police took some of the protesters into custody. This came after a large march in the morning to the Lincoln Yards site.