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Chicago Teachers Have a Deal With the City, But Will Stay on Strike for 11th Day

Chicago-teacher-strike-crowd-blog.jpg

After 10 days of striking, Chicago teachers have struck a tentative agreement with the city—but they will remain on strike until the mayor agrees to make up the missed days. 

On Wednesday evening, in a 364-242 vote, the Chicago Teachers Union delegates approved a tentative agreement that includes teacher and paraprofessional pay raises, millions of dollars for class-size reductions, and promises of additional support staff positions. The 25,000 educators in the CTU still have to vote on the deal. 

Even so, delegates did not pass a return-to-work agreement. Teachers will remain on strike until Mayor Lori Lightfoot agrees to let them make up the strike days, which she had previously said was not going to happen. (Teachers otherwise won't be paid for the time they were out on strike.)

Classes will be canceled again on Thursday, for the 11th day, for 300,000 students in the district. 

"Over the last two weeks, we have achieved gains in our schools, meaningful gains for all of our students, that will make our schools better for generations to come," said Chicago Teachers Union President Jesse Sharkey in a press conference following the delegates' vote. "We feel like important things were accomplished over the last 10 days, things that would never have been accomplished if we didn't walk the picket lines. ... Now we feel like we're just being punished because we had the audacity to defy the mayor, and that's not right." 

To Lightfoot, he said: "Please agree to restore instructional time so this strike can end and we can get back to work. We miss our students."

A Nurse in Every School

The tentative agreement, which was obtained by Chalkbeat, is a five-year contract deal that gives a 16 percent teacher pay raise and a nearly 40 percent average raise for paraprofessionals and school-related personnel members. The deal also will put a social worker and a nurse in every school, and the district has committed to hiring 180 additional special education case managers and 120 new counselors, restorative justice coordinators, and librarians.

The district has also committed $35 million to reducing class sizes, and provided an additional $5 million for pay increases for veteran teachers. 

The union did not get everything it was demanding. It had initially asked for a three-year contract that included a 5 percent teacher pay raise every year. And, in a major sticking point, the union wanted 30 minutes of morning prep time for elementary teachers—a demand that the district said would take instruction time away from students. Instead, the tentative agreement will give two additional hours of prep time per quarter to only kindergarten teachers.

Even so, the deal also included some union victories that Lightfoot had initially deemed outside the scope of collective bargaining. The district will place full-time support workers in high-needs schools who will coordinate services for students and families who are experiencing homelessness. The district will also establish sanctuary school protections for immigrant and refugee teachers and families. The tentative agreement even ensures that pre-kindergartners will have nap time.

State law says that the Chicago school district does not have to bargain over class size or staffing levels—and district officials had initially refused to put those items into the contract.

CTU Vice President Stacy Davis Gates said there were "raucous debates" among delegates about whether to accept the terms of the agreement. 

"We didn't want a five-year contract, we still don't want a five-year contract," she said. "We don't want schools without prep time, but both of these things are reality right now."

Still, she said, the tentative agreement constitutes "a substantial win."

A Heated Process

Over the last two weeks, the bargaining process has often been heated, with union members and district officials exchanging barbs. And on Tuesday afternoon, nine educators were arrested for protesting the mayor outside a private building. The Chicago Teachers Union held civil disobedience training sessions last week. 

The district had also informed striking teachers that if no deal were reached by Nov. 1, union members would lose their health insurance for a month.

This strike has exceeded the length of the union's last strike, which was in 2012 and lasted seven school days. While schools have remained open during this strike to provide students with shelter and access to meals, classes have been canceled and few students have shown up. 

About 7,500 support staffers—including custodians, bus aides, and special education assistants—had also gone on strike alongside teachers. Their union reached a deal with Chicago Public Schools on Sunday, but members remained on the picket lines this week in support of CTU. 

Image: Educators, students, and union laborers rally on Oct. 26 during the Chicago teachers' strike. —Tyler LaRiviere/Chicago Sun-Times via AP 

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