If Chicago teachers walk off the job, it would be the latest strike by educators in a string of job actions that began in early 2018 in states controlled by Republicans and Democrats. This year, teachers went on strike in Los Angeles, Denver, Oakland and Sacramento. Teachers have been seeking not only higher pay but more resources for cash-strapped schools.
Chicago teachers voted overwhelmingly Wednesday to strike in two weeks if their demands — which include higher pay and benefits, fully staffed schools, smaller class sizes — are not met by Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s administration. Some class sizes exceed 40 students, the union said, and many schools do not have sufficient staff, including nurses, social workers and librarians.
Other union demands involve social issues, including affordable housing for teachers, students and parents; an expansion of community schools that provide services for students and their families (including counseling, medical and dental care, food support); and an extension of the city’s moratorium on charter schools, which are publicly funded but privately operated.
Lightfoot and Chicago Public Schools Chief Executive Officer Janice K. Jackson said that even though they are doing “everything in our power to reach a fair deal” to avoid a strike, they are making preparations for one, and they pledged to keep schools open during school hours “to ensure students have a safe and welcoming place to spend the day and warm meals to eat.”
The Chicago Teachers Union, which represents some 35,000 teachers, says city officials have rejected many of the union’s positions, and union leaders derided a contract negotiation website that Lightfoot unveiled Monday with details of the administration’s proposals.
“This new website does not replace open bargaining, which we’d still like to see,” union president Jesse Sharkey said in an email. “Those who are most impacted — including more than 25,000 teachers, paraprofessionals and clinicians and the families they serve — deserve a seat at the table, and livestreaming bargaining would be a step towards that.”
If the teachers strike, it would be the third walkout in Chicago since 1987, when the union won pay raises, small class sizes and other concessions during a strike that lasted three weeks. Chicago teachers went out on strike again in 2012 with strong community support, seeking higher wages, fair teacher assessment and job security.