Teaching Profession

Chicago’s Teacher Strike Is Finally Over After 11 Days

By Madeline Will — October 31, 2019 3 min read
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After 11 long, increasingly raucous days on the picket lines, 25,000 teachers in Chicago will return to their classrooms.

Chicago Teachers Union President Jesse Sharkey and Mayor Lori Lightfoot reached a deal after a two-hour meeting on Thursday to make up five of the missed instructional days and end the strike. A tentative contract agreement had been reached on Wednesday night, but teachers decided to remain on strike for an additional day until the mayor agreed to let them make up the days they had missed. (Teachers are not paid for the time they’re out on strike.)

Classes in the nation’s third-largest school district will resume on Friday for 300,000 students.

Chicago teachers now must vote to ratify the tentative agreement, which passed in a close vote by union delegates. The tentative five-year deal includes teacher and paraprofessional pay raises, millions of dollars for class-size reductions, and promises of additional support staff positions. The union scored some significant victories, but it did not get everything it wanted. Teachers had wanted a three-year contract deal, and 30 minutes of morning prep time for elementary teachers, among other union demands that were ultimately not realized.

While schools had remained open during the strike to give students access to meals and a safe place to go, instruction had been canceled, and few students attended. In a series of tweets, Janice Jackson, the chief executive officer for Chicago Public Schools, said that having students back in class is “what matters most.”

“It’s now time for us to move past the acrimony, the name-calling, the outrage hashtags, and get back to focusing on students,” she tweeted. “We are a district on the rise, and we will continue to be a shining example of what is possible for an urban school district.”

Still, tensions remain between union and district leadership. Officials from both camps gave separate press conferences announcing the end of the strike.

In the union’s press conference, Sharkey said he did not “feel like doing a celebration lap” with Lightfoot, according to tweets from Chalkbeat. And CTU Vice President Stacy Davis Gates said she wants a partner in the district who will “appreciate and respect” that union members gave up six days of pay and had fought for 11 days.

In Lightfoot’s press conference, she had said she did not think in terms of winning. “This has been a hardship on way too many people across our city, especially our young people,” she said.

As the press conference concluded, a reporter asked, “Why did [a deal] take so long?”

“You’ll have to ask the CTU that,” Lightfoot said as she walked away.

This strike had exceeded the length of the union’s last strike, which was in 2012 and lasted seven school days. The district and the union struggled to reach an agreement on several key issues. The union said the district was refusing to invest in its students, and the district said the union kept bringing new demands to the bargaining table.

Despite the lingering tensions, union leaders applauded some of the terms of the contract deal. State law says that the Chicago school district does not have to bargain over class size or staffing levels, and district officials were initially reluctant to put anything related to those issues into a contract. But the tentative agreement says the district will aggressively hire more school nurses and social workers until there is one of each in every school by the 2023-24 school year. And the district will commit $35 million a year to help relieve oversized classes.

Teachers will get an average 16 percent pay raise, with additional raises going toward veteran teachers. Paraprofessionals and other support staff will also see a significant raise.

Top image: Teachers listen to Chicago Teachers Union President Jesse Sharkey as he updates them about negotiations during a rally on Oct. 31. —Pat Nabong/Chicago Sun-Times via AP

Second image: From left, Chicago Public Schools CEO Janice Jackson, Chief Education Officer LaTanya McDade, Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Sybil Madison, the city’s deputy mayor for education and human services, attend a press conference at City Hall to discuss the Chicago Teachers Union strike on Oct. 31. —Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Chicago Sun-Times via AP

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