CHICAGO – After four days of a strike by more than 32,000 Chicago Public Schools teachers and staff, workers are still picketing, kids are still out of class, and negotiators from the unions and the Chicago mayor’s office are still at the bargaining table.
A little 2020 pressure came Tuesday as Democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren showed up in the Windy City, on the heels of releasing a slate of union-friendly education proposals.
“I’m here because the eyes of this nation are upon you. They have turned to Chicago for you to lead the way, for you to show how the power of standing together is the power of making real change in this country,” Warren told a crowd of several hundred people gathered outside Oscar Depriest Elementary School in the South Austin neighborhood. “I’m here to stand with every one of the people who stand for our children every day.”
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Chicago Public Schools teachers and staff went on strike Thursday after their unions failed to settle a deal with City Hall. While the city has offered union members a 16% raise over five years, plus some new benefits, the unions are still pushing for smaller class sizes, higher wages for the lowest-paid staffers, and more support staff, such as school nurses, librarians and social workers.
Why keep striking? What else do teachers want?
The key hang-ups are still class sizes and staffing levels.
City Hall has taken “meaningful” steps toward a deal, said Jesse Sharkey, president of the Chicago Teachers Union, on Tuesday.
“We got meaningful written offers about class size, and we got meaningful written offers about staffing. That’s incredibly important. The mayor gave us an offer that we believe could help us get a nurse at every school every day. The mayor gave us an offer which we believe would limit the size of our classes and let students get individual attention,” Sharkey said.
But it’s still not enough. Sharkey said the class size guarantees would only help 15% of students and wouldn’t affect high schools. He also said the staffing guarantees don’t have any enforcement mechanism.
In a video message posted to the union’s Twitter account Tuesday afternoon, Sharkey suggested the strike could last into Thursday. He called on supporters nationwide to wear red on Thursday — the color of the Chicago Teachers Union and other teachers’ labor efforts — in solidarity with the strike.
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What moves has each side made?
Despite progress over the weekend — when CTU said negotiators had reached a tentative agreement on eight issues — negotiations appeared to stall Monday, when Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot sent a letter to Sharkey calling for an end to the strike even before a settlement is reached.
“Our students and families are sacrificing a great deal that cannot be recovered. While we have made progress at the bargaining table, it is unclear that we can reach an agreement today given the current pace,” Lightfoot wrote.
On Monday, CTU invited city resident Rev. Jesse. L Jackson to help negotiate a settlement with City Hall. In 1987, Jackson “was a central voice and figure to ending the longstanding dispute” between CTU and the city’s then-mayor, CTU said.
City officials say they’re open to additional ideas from the union about how to serve more students on the class size issue. They say they’re not interested in writing caps on class sizes into the contract, but that they are open to other enforcement mechanisms.
Officials said negotiations have been productive and they’re getting closer to a deal, but they’re not there yet.
What else is holding up negotiations during the CPS strike?
One difference between the 2012 strike and today’s strike is that the union’s top leadership is involving a greater number of everyday teachers at the negotiating table, according to city officials. That means it takes longer to get approval from everyone.
Those teachers were out picketing Tuesday, which means a low likelihood of a deal Tuesday, the mayor’s staff said.
What does that mean for CPS students?
They’ll be out of school for a fifth day, on Wednesday. And maybe beyond.
“I have heard from our students and parents who have expressed their desire and frustration that they’re caught in the middle of this strike,” CPS CEO Janice Jackson said in a letter to students and families Tuesday. “As a mother of CPS students and as the leader of this district, I am committed to doing what it takes to reach a resolution that protects our students’ progress and gets them back into classrooms where they belong.”
Mayor Lori Lightfoot has canceled classes for the district’s approximately 360,000 students, but school buildings have remained open, and meals have been served.
Only a small fraction of students have shown up at school. Many are staying home, visiting friends and family, or attending “strike camps” organized throughout the city.
What’s happening to CPS student athletes involved in fall playoffs?
They’re benched. CPS students whose tournaments had started before the strike, including some boys soccer players and girls and boys golf players, could have continued during the strike, per the rules of the Illinois High School Association. But CPS stopped those players from continuing in their tournaments, IHSA Executive Director Craig Anderson said Tuesday. That’s likely because coaches are on strike, and extracurricular activities in the district were canceled when classes were canceled.
State athletics association rules do not let students begin a tournament if their school or district is on strike, which meant other CPS athletes, including other boys soccer players and girls tennis players, saw their tournaments start on Friday without them. Despite appeals to let the CPS students play, Anderson said the IHSA board won’t change the rule because CPS has already barred athletes from participating during the strike.
Lightfoot said in a statement Monday that student-athletes were among the many reasons to end the strike.
Why was Elizabeth Warren in Chicago Tuesday?
Warren’s visit to Chicago came one day after she unveiled her education plan in Des Moines, Iowa. Warren wants to invest $800 billion in public schools to fight against segregation, provide free meals for all students, increase teacher pay, end federal money toward new charter schools and more.
A former special education teacher, Warren plans to use her signature wealth tax —which charges 2% on fortunes over $50 million — to pay for the investments.
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“I believe it is time in America to make a new investment in public education,” Warren told the crowd Tuesday.
Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders also showed support for union members in the lead-up to the strike, when he joined a rally at CTU headquarters.
What about the 7,500 striking school staff workers?
They’re still negotiating, too, but a news release Monday night from the Service Employees International Union Local 73 suggested their talks have stalled.
The union said its bargaining team is “frustrated” with CPS negotiators, whom they said did not offer any new counter proposals during negotiations Monday.
The current sticking points are over pay increases for school support staff workers, such as special education assistants, according to a statement Monday night from Dian Palmer, president of SEIU Local 73. She also said the union still is asking the school to enforce duties for support staff instead of allowing them to be assigned elsewhere and end the use of contract firms for custodial work.
Chicago teachers and staff held another mass demonstration Tuesday afternoon outside Dyett High School on the city’s south side.