Teaching Profession

Chicago Teachers May Vote to Strike This Week. Here’s Why

By Sarah Schwartz — September 24, 2019 4 min read
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Chicago teachers begin voting today over whether to authorize a strike, following months of contract negotiations with the city’s schools.

If at least 75 percent of union members vote yes, the union’s House of Delegates will set a date to walk out this fall. Voting will be open through Sept. 26, and the earliest that they could strike is Oct. 7.

Chicago is the latest in a series of big-city and statewide teacher strikes that have spread across the country over the last 18 months. While these strikes started with teachers in some of the lowest-paid states rallying for higher salaries, they have since expanded in scope to include calls for lower class sizes, more support staff, and other student-focused demands.

See also: The New Flavor of Teacher Strike: More Than Just Pay Raises

Chicago’s contract negotiations have followed a similar pattern: The union is asking for a 5 percent annual pay raise and no increases in health care costs, but also smaller class sizes and more nurses, social workers, and counselors.

This August, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot offered a 16 percent pay increase over five years, in line with the recommendations of an independent fact-finding report that was presented to the union and the school board that month.

The union refused those terms, holding firm on its demand for an annual 5 percent raise, which members say is necessary to match the increasing cost of living in the city. They also want a three-year contract length, instead of five-year.

The city’s offer also maintains the current class size and doesn’t make any guarantees about nurses, social workers, and counselors—all elements that the union says are critical parts of its proposal.

At a press conference last week, Lightfoot said that the union hadn’t responded to several proposals on “open issues” that the city had put forward. “A deal is within our reach but we need partners on the other side of the table,” she said, according to tweets from a WGN reporter at the press conference.

Jesse Sharkey, the president of the Chicago Teachers’ Union, told the Chicago Tribune this week that there were still “a lot of sticking points” with the school board. “We are not seeing eye-to-eye with the board right now on pay and benefits; we’re not where we need to be on staffing promises to make our schools better; we haven’t gotten an agreement on class size,” he said.

Presidential Candidates Weigh In

Several Democratic presidential candidates, in the midst of their primary campaigns, have thrown their support behind the teachers.

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders will join teachers at a rally at the teachers’ union headquarters on Tuesday, the union announced last week.

Ahead of that announcement, Sanders tweeted in support of the teachers. Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and former Vice President Joe Biden also voiced their encouragement this week.

Meanwhile, another school staff strike in Chicago may be on the horizon. Members of Service Employees International Union Local 73, which represents custodians, bus aides, special education classroom assistants, and security officers, voted in July to strike if they are unable to reach a contract with Chicago schools.

The city has also offered SEIU Local 73 a 16 percent pay raise over five years. The union is asking for more money, as well as better schedules for workers. The earliest the union could strike is Oct. 17.

And teachers at Passages Elementary, a charter school in the city, announced on Monday that they voted to authorize a strike if they can’t reach a deal in contract negotiations. (The Windy City was home to the first-ever strike by charter school teachers last year.)

See also: Teacher Strikes: 4 Common Questions

Chicago teachers at traditional public schools last left their classrooms during a one-day walkout in 2016, after the district announced plans to furlough teachers and other district employees for three days that fiscal year in an effort to save money.

In 2012, Chicago teachers went on strike for a week. The agreement reached maintained step-and-lane raises for teachers based on degree and experience, prevented a merit-pay system, and secured new teaching and counseling positions.

Image: Chicago teachers walk a picket line outside a school in Chicago on Sept. 10, 2012, after they went on strike for the first time in 25 years. Teachers in Chicago, the nation’s third-largest school district, again are inching closer to a strike that could take place as early as next month. —M. Spencer Green/AP

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Teaching Now blog.