Negotiations Come Up Short as Chicago Teachers Begin Strike

Teacher Jesse McAdoo addresses reporters while surrounded by fellow teachers after a meeting of the Chicago Teachers Union House of Delegates at the CTU Center in Chicago on Wednesday. Chicago parents and community groups are scrambling to prepare for a massive teachers’ strike set to begin Thursday, prompting the city to preemptively cancel classes in the nation’s third-largest school district. (John J. Kim/Chicago Tribune via AP)

CHICAGO (CN) – Chicago public school teachers will strike starting Thursday morning, as delegates from the Chicago Teachers’ Union voted Wednesday to reject the latest contract proposal from the city after three weeks of negotiations.

“We’re on strike until we do better,” CTU President Jessie Sharkey said Wednesday evening. “We have not achieved what we need to bring justice and high quality schools to the children and the teachers of Chicago.”

“I was disappointed by the CTU decision to start a work stoppage,” Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot said after the announcement. “I feel like we rolled up our sleeves and negotiated in good faith over a long period of time.

“We will remain at the table and I hope CTU will as well,” the mayor said. “This has to be about our children. And my commitment to them will not be disrupted.”

Ninety four percent of the union’s more than 25,000 members voted in favor of authorizing the strike on Sept. 26, but could not agree on a contract with the school district over that time.

Over 360,000 students who attend Chicago Public Schools will be out of the classroom until a deal is made.

The union refuses to back down from its plan to add $2.5 billion to the CPS budget, which was already $5.98 billion for fiscal year 2019.

Mayor Lightfoot called the plan “irresponsible” at a press conference Wednesday morning, adding that “CPS finances are still recovering from the brink of insolvency and we do not have unlimited funds.”

Plagued by budget woes for years, CPS school have seen major cuts in school programs, nurses, librarians, social workers and counselors and overcrowding in the classroom, some teachers saying they have 40 students at a time.

Former Mayor Rahm Emmanuel infamously shut down 49 schools in 2013 to combat issues with funding.

CTU asked for a 15% raise over a three-year contract, but teachers also want support staff such as nurses and social workers added to every school, a re-expansion of community schools, paid prep time and caps on class sizes.

The union took it a step further and asked CPS to officially endorse their preferred affordable housing program for the city, something that is not within its negotiating powers.

“The deal we put on the table is the best in the Chicago Teachers’ Union’s history,” Mayor Lightfoot said Wednesday. “At every turn we bent over backwards to meet the union’s needs.”

In addition to a 16% raise over a 5-year agreement, putting the average teacher’s yearly salary at almost $100,000, the city agreed in writing to the union’s two core issues – adding support staff and reducing class size – instead of adding the funds to the city’s general budget as planned.

But Mayor Lightfoot refused to cave on shortening the school day for prep time and formally adding additional funds to the contract budget.

“We came into these negotiations asking a lot,” CTU President Jesse Sharkey said in a Wednesday press release. “We’ve asked for a lot because we give a lot and our students deserve it. And what we’ve gotten from CPS at the bargaining table is simply not enough. We want the schools our students deserve.”

All Thursday CPS classes and after school programs were already cancelled Wednesday morning in anticipation of the strike, but school buildings will remain open and serve meals for students who need a safe place to go during the day.

The CTU last threatened to strike in 2015, but an agreement was reached just minutes before midnight on the eve of the work stoppage. The last active teachers’ strike was in 2012.

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