Chicago Teachers Agree to Tentative Deal, Will Remain on Strike

Chicago Teachers Union President Jesse Sharkey, right, and Vice President Stacy Davis Gates, third from left, speak following a CTU House of Delegates meeting at the Chicago Teachers Union Center on Tuesday in Chicago. (Chris Sweda/Chicago Tribune via AP)

CHICAGO (CN) – The Chicago Teachers’ Union voted to accept a tentative contract from the city Wednesday night after a two-week battle with rookie Mayor Lori Lightfoot, but won’t be back in class until further demands are met.

However, Chicago Public School teachers will not be returning to the classroom Thursday, continuing their strike until the mayor agrees to extend the school year and pay them for the days spent on strike.

“We do not understand why the mayor can’t simply call and say ‘We’ll give you an agreement to make up the instructional time,'” CTU President Jesse Sharkey said. “If I get a call and she says that, we will be back at work.”

CTU sent a call out to all of its 25,000 members to show up at City Hall on Thursday morning.

“I’m not compensating them for days they were out on strike,” Lightfoot said at a press conference late Thursday. “I’ve been very clear about that.”

“We’ve given them a historic deal by any measure,” the mayor said. “At some point the negotiations have to end. The fact that our children are not back in school tomorrow is on them.”

Chicago students have been out of class since Oct. 17 while their teachers have flooded downtown streets, picketed outside schools and even got themselves arrested protesting a real estate developer that received millions in property tax funds from the city earlier this year.

While Mayor Lightfoot agreed last week to what the CTU said was its two core issues – adding support staff such as nurses and social workers and addressing overcrowded classrooms – talks stalled around paid prep time and contract length.

Lightfoot also accused the union of playing a political game, saying it was demanding the city agree to legislation governing what it could strike over and switching the school district to an elected school board.

Currently the board is appointed by the mayor, something Lightfoot campaigned on changing.

Meanwhile, CTU leaders claimed the city was refusing to back down on a mere $38 million in contract terms, which the school district and Lightfoot denied, saying the difference was more like $100 million.

At the beginning of negotiations, Lightfoot said the $2.5 billion in added funds CTU wanted would be “irresponsible.”

The mayor reiterated her support for the school district and its teachers and students in an opinion piece published in the Chicago Sun Times Sunday evening.

“My goal is to support our teachers so they can focus on their core mission, namely educating and nurturing our children,” she said. “And I believe these goals are within reach.”

The CTU got some celebrity support from local artist Chance the Rapper on Saturday Night Live over the weekend, while Democratic presidential hopeful Elizabeth Warren joined picketing teachers last Tuesday.

Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker, House Speaker Mike Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton all voiced support Wednesday for an elected school board while union delegates convened to vote, stuck on whether or not they would be paid for the days missed during the strike.

The final 5-year agreement includes a 16% pay raise and an investment of $35 million to combat large class sizes.

It also pledges to put a nurse and social worker in every school by July of 2023, as well as adding new case managers, librarians and counselors.

A contract was also finally agreed upon Monday afternoon with the union representing school staff such as special education aides, bus aides and security guards. The members decided not go back to work, however, until CTU also cut a deal.

The teachers’ strike has been Lightfoot’s first major challenge as mayor after a sweeping election win earlier this year.

School buildings have remained open with meals served for the 360,000 students in the nation’s third largest district throughout the work stoppage, although some student athletes were forced to miss competing in state playoffs.

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