Chicago Mayor Urges Teachers Union To End Strike Before Reaching Deal

2019-10-21 17:59:14

As Chicago’s teacher strike reached its third school day, Mayor Lori Lightfoot asked the Chicago Teachers Union to end the walkout and open up the city’s schools again before the two sides finish negotiating a contract deal.

In a letter Monday, Lightfoot and Chicago Public Schools CEO Janice Jackson urged CTU President Jesse Sharkey to “end the strike and encourage your members to come back to work” while negotiations continue. 

“While we have made progress at the bargaining table, it is unclear that we can reach an agreement today given the current pace,” Lightfoot and Jackson wrote in the letter, first reported by the Chicago Sun-Times. “The students and families of Chicago cannot afford to be out of school for any longer, which is why we are asking you to end the strike and encourage your members to return to work while bargaining continues.”

About 25,000 teachers, clinicians, nurses and librarians have been striking in Chicago since Thursday after months of failed negotiations with CPS, the country’s third-largest school district that serves more than 300,000 students. CPS support staff are also striking, and are represented by SEIU Local 73. CTU teachers have worked under an expired contract for more than 100 days.

The strike has led to citywide closure of school hours, though buildings have stayed open to provide meals and safe areas for students to stay. The school district developed a contingency plan for students to be supervised by non-unionized staff, but there has been no academic instruction or after-school programming with the exception of Chicago’s more than 100 charter schools, which are operating as scheduled.

“We could end this within a couple days, but there would need to be a commitment on the mayor’s part to do that,” Sharkey told local reporters Monday in response to the letter.

CTU took to Twitter on Monday to express frustration with Lightfoot’s letter, saying: “When we said ‘put it in writing,’ this isn’t what we meant.” 

“From lies about our salary, to her intransigence on makeup days, to cancelling classes Oct. 17 before delegates could convene, to chiding us about ‘urgency’ when she has yet to come to the table, to painfully obvious photo ops, to today’s letter,” the union tweeted Monday. “All bad.”

The union has primarily asked for smaller class sizes and more special education teachers, nurses and social workers, among other demands like fair pay and housing policies. The union said Sunday that the two sides have since the walkout made a tentative agreement for specific staff positions to support homeless students, and CTU got contractual language included that the district will follow Illinois law in maintaining a ratio of one adult for every 10 students in a pre-K classroom. Lightfoot also proposed investing about $2 million to get a nurse and a social worker in every school.

“It should be expected to have a social worker and nurse in a school community. [Lightfoot] mocked us when we talked about the 20,000 homeless students in the system,” CTU Vice President Stacy Davis previously told HuffPost. “The CPS has a history of segregation, and it has a history of inequity.”

Lightfoot said at a press conference Monday that CTU is asking for too much money, and that the union is being unreasonable by continuing to strike despite the mayor proposing solutions to two of the biggest demands.

“Beyond what we’ve put on the table, there is simply no more money,” Lightfoot told reporters. “We can only agree to what we can afford. There are not unlimited resources to fund everything in a single contract that CTU wishes. The money on the table is all there is.”

CTU stressed that its demands are not new, and the union has been bargaining all year. The union said it submitted proposals in January, but did not receive “responsive counterproposals in writing” until teachers went on strike.

“It shouldn’t take two days of being on strike to get students’ needs met ― needs in a school district that serves 90 percent students of color, and students who live in neighborhoods besieged by poverty, violence and Great-Depression era levels of unemployment,” the union tweeted.

In their letter to Sharkey, Lightfoot and Jackson stressed that student-athletes are missing out on tournaments, high school seniors are concerned about college applications and many students are put at risk without the safety, food access and structure that school provides.

Sharkey acknowledged that the strike has been difficult for families and school staff, but that “no one wants to get back into the classroom more than the teachers in the city of Chicago.”

Union members have also voiced anger that Lightfoot had campaigned on the very promises that teachers wanted when she was elected mayor earlier this year.

“The mayor ran on an education platform ― our education platform ― to improve our schools and the quality of life for students, parents, educators and school communities,” the union tweeted Monday. “Everything she has done as of late has been anything but an improvement, and has only made the situation worse.”

Lightfoot penned an op-ed Monday in the Sun-Times in efforts to assure residents that she is still committed to her campaign promise of promoting “educational equity,” specifically in public schools. In the op-ed, the mayor said she respects workers’ right to organize but is disappointed that CTU is striking when she believes her contract offers are “fair and respectful” of the union’s demands. 

CPS tweeted Monday evening that the union had not scheduled the vote necessary to end its strike, resulting in class cancellations for Tuesday, the fourth school day since the walkout began. Presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) will be in Chicago on Tuesday to support CTU’s strike, her campaign confirmed.

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