On Sept. 26, it was confirmed that the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) voted to authorize a strike, with 35,000 teachers, school support staff and park district workers set to walk out of schools and parks on Oct. 17. This date gives public employees less than two weeks to create deals to avoid leaving nearly 300,000 students without a teacher and administrators and the city’s parks shut down.
According to NPR, CTU leaders reported that 94 percent of members had voted in favor of a strike, surpassing the 75 percent requirement by law. “We have to deliver better schools,” Chicago Teachers Union President Jesse Sharkey said.
Jesse has warned that if the strike ensues, it could end up as being a “massive labor movement” rippling out into the city. But Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Chicago Public Schools (CPS) CEO Janice Jackson are insisting that both Unions going on strike is not necessary, with Lightfoot saying, “We should get a deal done. We should negotiate night and day to get a deal done… I’ll clear my schedule; I will put as many people on the case as possible. There should not be a strike in the city.”
Courtesy: Nader Issa/Sun-Times
What led these Unions to the proposition of a strike? Pressing issues regarding compensation and length of contract for teachers and workers served as the motivation to negotiate better deals. Their offer: a 16 percent raise over the course of five years. After the vote, both Lightfoot and Jackson released a statement reaffirming their commitment “to increasing critical support staff to record levels… As the product of public-school system ourselves, we know firsthand how hard our teachers work, and we celebrate their engagement and tenacity during the bargaining process over these past months. 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.”
Sharkey serving as a leading voice said, “We are not going to settle money until teachers going to schools have an entire package of things that satisfy us.” For CTU, this strike is about more than just pay. Two of the larger unresolved issues deal with staffing and class size limits. The union insists that the board of education lower the staff-to-student ratios for nurses, social workers, classroom sizes and special education case managers. They also wanted a promise in the contract that more librarians would be hired. Upon saying no to these demands, the CTU revised their offer by demanding CPS to invest in a pipeline to be able to hire enough staff and an enforceable hiring plan. So far, this has also been rejected by the board.
This is the third time CTU has authorized a strike this decade, one occurring in 2012 and the other in 2016, both with high approval ratings amongst voters. “The mayor has a difficult choice right now,” CTU President Jesse Sharkey told the Chicago Sun-Times after selected CTU delegates from schools around the city set the date. “The mayor can either do what’s right at the table or can face a unified strike of both CTU and SEIU together.” With these two Unions taking a stand together, it is putting pressure on public officials at City Hall to seal deals quickly, CTU and SEIU not showing any signs of caving into the school board’s offers.