The Chicago Teachers Union is entering its 10th school day of a controversial strike to lower class sizes and get more nurses, social workers and counselors for schools in Black and Latino communities.
The controversy has at some points, pitted teachers against the city’s first Black female mayor, Lori Lightfoot.
Still, it seemed both sides were close to an agreement Tuesday, when Lightfoot met with union leaders at City Hall.
She later released a proposed tentative agreement on major terms that would provide a nurse and social worker at every school by 2023, the end of the mayor’s term.
While the document says Chicago Public Schools is willing to invest $35 million in class size supports, it does not spell out a new mandated cap on class sizes, which teachers have been pushing for.
Still, Lightfoot said there are other issues slowing down an agreement.
“What’s prolonging the strike is the union’s insistence on a shorter school day or school year and their insistence that I agree to support their political agenda,” she told the Chicago Tribune.
Stacy Davis Gates, the union’s vice president, also a Black woman, said school system leaders have “bogged down” negotiations for months.
“Look, when you are bogged down by negotiating clean bathrooms, when you’re bogged down by negotiating a 10-to-1 ratio of pre-K student to adult, those are the things that get in the way,” Davis Gates said. “They said no a lot. They said ‘no, no, no, I can’t do it.'”
“They hid the ball. It was 10 months of this,” Davis Gates added. “I am frustrated. I am exhausted.”‘
She also said the mayor set up an “unfair expectation” that union delegates would be voting on something Tuesday.
Union President Jesse Sharkey later clarified during a press conference that union leaders only wanted to update its delegates at a special meeting called Tuesday.
Union leaders had earlier met with the mayor until about 4 p.m., and Sharkey called those conversations “productive” and “respectful.”
He said no one wants a teacher’s strike, “least of all teachers.”
“We have been missing our students,” he said. “We have been not being paid obviously.”
Sharkey said although the union’s team hasn’t had a chance to get some of the elements discussed written down, it plans to do that and get it in front of people.
“And based on how it goes tomorrow, if there’s a tentative agreement, we’ll bring people in to vote that tomorrow afternoon,” Sharkey said Tuesday. “But we have to have a tentative agreement for that.”
And Sharkey said that’s possible.
The union’s former President Karen Lewis, a Black woman, said in a public statement Tuesday she’s standing in solidarity with teachers, school-related personnel, clinicians, nurses and librarians.
“Lori, keep your promises and let’s get this done,” Lewis said. “Our members have resolve and will not relent when it comes to the families they serve.”
Lewis reminded the new mayor of promises she made while running.
“She ran on our education platform and made a commitment to reverse years of failed policy and horrible planning by her predecessors,” Lewis said.
She also reminded the public that Lightfoot didn’t create the flaws in the city’s education system but that she still is accountable for the promises she made to be a “progressive, pro-education mayor” for Chicago students “regardless of where they live in this city.”
This isn’t the first time the Chicago Teachers Union has launched a strike, according to the Chicago Teachers Union.
For the first time since the record-breaking 19-day strike led by Black union president Jacqueline Vaughn in 1987, teachers protested on picket lines throughout the city on Sept. 10, 2012.
Although Lewis faced criticism for caving on key issues like an extended school day without added prep periods, educators were able to solidify an agreement sending teachers back to classrooms Sept. 19, 2012.
Teachers got a double-digit salary increase and then-Mayor Rahm Emanuel got the longer school day and school year.
Teachers have consistently held that this strike is not about the money or a refusal to compromise on the part of teachers. It’s about holding the line for students, educators, social media users and celebrities alike have said.
Chicago artist Chance the Rapper showed his support for teachers by wearing a CTU sweatshirt while hosting “Saturday Night Live” last weekend.
“I fully support you,” the rapper said, according to the Chicago Sun-Times. “I just wish that when I was in school, my teachers had gone on a strike.”
He also joked during his opening monologue that the last time he hosted the show, “I gave $1 million to CPS. And I’m happy to say it completely fixed everything.”