- Mark Friedman
By Mark Friedman, Reporter
Tens of thousands of teachers in Chicago staged their first walkout in seven years on Oct. 17. The Chicago Teachers’ Union, which represents more than 20,000 educators, have been negotiating with the city for months, but the differences between the two sides goes beyond traditional debates over pay and benefits.
Chicago’s mayor, Lori Lightfoot, was elected this year after campaigning on a platform of putting full-time nurses, social workers and librarians in all city schools, and promising to expand counseling services. She also campaigned on recruiting more black and Hispanic teachers and increasing the number of after-school programs. Teachers on the picket line are saying she is reneging on those commitments now.
One woman at the front held a “We got catfished” sign accusing Lightfoot of campaigning for “schools first” while delivering “schools last.”
The city offered pay raises 16 percent within 5 years, while the union calls for 15 percent over 3-year contract. Like in Los Angeles, the union wants a promise — in writing — of smaller class sizes, more paid time to prepare lessons and the hiring of more school nurses, social workers, librarians and counselors. Other issues include affordable housing provisions and protections for immigrant students.
About 7,500 school support employees represented by a different union (which includes security officers, bus aides, custodians and special education classroom assistants) also rejected a contract offer and planned to strike with teachers.
The city, which has an annual budget of $5.98 billion, cites high unfunded pension liabilities as the culprit behind why the city isn’t offering more at the negotiating table.
“Our children deserve the best that this city has to offer,” said Davis Gates, the vice president of the Chicago Teachers Union. Gates said the city had failed to offer more than the status quo on some essential issues.
Chicago was the birthplace of unionization among teachers in the late 19th century, and the heavily Democratic city has remained a hotbed of teacher activism. The Chicago Teachers’ Union clashed with Ms. Lightfoot’s predecessor, Mayor Rahm Emanuel during the 2012 strike. In December 2018, Chicago was the site of the first teacher strike at a charter school network.