The demands of the Chicago Teachers Union, which began a strike on Thursday, October 17, 2019, are familiar by now. Living wages suited to their area. Additional resources in schools, from more paper towels and white-board markers to more teaching staff, nurses, and social workers.
“A fair contract!” shouted picket signs in the march, which took place as more than 300,000 students from over 500 public schools looked on.
The Chicago teachers’ strike affects Chicago Public Schools, the third-largest school district in the nation, with approximately 22,000 teachers and an annual budget north of $5.6 billion. District-wide, the ratio of students to teachers is 17 to 1, but in reality, that usually translates to three teachers teaching classes of 36 for every teacher with fewer than 15. The number of teachers is also falling. In 2012, Chicago had 29,000 teaching staff. Even so, for the last few years, Chicago has led the country in improvements in student test scores and graduation rates.
Under the current contract, beginning teachers in Chicago make $56,000 a year. An estimated “comfortable” living wage for a single occupant in the city is $68,000.
On October 23, when talks stalled, the teachers’ union said that tentative agreements had been reached on 80 or so issues, but not on the union’s top priorities, which include lower class sizes, a three-year contract with a total of 15 percent in wage increases for teachers, more nurses and support staff in schools, and no increase in medical insurance premiums.
In comments made on October 23, Chicago Public Schools Chief Education Officer LaTanya McDade said, “We still have really big issues on the table and we’re waiting for CTU to counter on both class size and staffing. We are taking this very seriously at the table. We are bargaining in good faith, and CPS has given on a lot of key issues.
Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot criticized union leaders for what she said was a “lack of urgency” in negotiations—something she has said repeatedly since the strike began. “I wouldn’t say bargaining has stalled,” she said. “I don’t think that’s accurate, but we certainly aren’t making the level of progress on a day-to-day basis that we need to.”
For his part, Chicago Teachers Union President Jesse Sharkey said, “I think the public not only massively supports the strike … but I think, more importantly, the public supports the demands.”
The Chicago teachers’ strike only underscores the growing discontent over the fact that over the past 30 years, teachers’ salaries have been declining relative to inflation, and that tax cuts in the name of “small government” have hit the nation’s public schools in the gut.
Update: On Friday, October 25, both parties said they are having a “good day” of negotiations. While disagreements still remain on big issues like class sizes and staffing, it appears that the CTU and Chicago Public Schools may be coming closer to an agreement.
“Today was a good day,” CTU Chief of Staff Jennifer Johnson told WGN-TV. “We’re making good progress.”
“We’re encouraged after today’s back and forth at the table,” McDade said. “We’re looking forward to what comes tomorrow. We’re hoping to get to a place where are students and teachers are back in the classrooms very soon.”
Photo: The 2019 Chicago teachers’ strike protesting unfair treatment in the school district. Credit: ezellhphotography / Shutterstock.com