Chicago educators are on strike. Members of the Chicago Teachers Union, unwilling to back down from their fight for the schools that Chicago students deserve, hit the picket lines on Oct. 17. For the last 10 months, CTU members have struggled to carve a path forward to a collective bargaining agreement that meaningfully improves conditions in the city’s public schools.
The teachers and school support staff want the city to address student needs, and that starts with Mayor Lori Lightfoot making good on the promises she made during her mayoral campaign.
“We want what the mayor promised as a candidate—a school nurse, a social worker and a librarian in every school,” says CTU President Jesse Sharkey. “We want smaller class sizes for our students, who don’t deserve to compete with 40 other children for their teacher’s support. We want the dignity and respect the mayor keeps claiming she has for our teachers, clinicians and support staff. And we reject locking our members into a five-year deal that simply perpetuates a status quo that hurts students and undermines educators.”
Lightfoot has said she cannot accept CTUs’ demands, saying they would cost $2.5 billion that the city can’t afford. However, Sharkey says, CPS can afford to keep these promises. “The district is taking in over a billion dollars in new annual revenue from the state to do exactly what we are asking for in negotiations. And we intend to bargain until we get those commitments in writing in an enforceable contract,” he says.
CTU members have flooded the internet with the hashtag #PutItInWriting and #FundOurFuture, insisting that a legal union contract is the only way to ensure their students get the resources and attention they deserve. The union has broad support from parents, families and community members, and according to a Chicago Sun-Times/ABC7 Chicago poll, 49 percent of voters in the city either strongly support or somewhat support a walkout. Even influential politicians are supportive of the CTU’s fight: Five of the nation’s Democratic presidential candidates—Joe Biden, Julián Castro, Kamala Harris, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren—have expressed solidarity with CTU.
“We just want a fair contract. That's why we're out here. And I believe we deserve that,” says Richard Niebaum, a teacher at Taft High School in Chicago. “We're not being unreasonable here. The things that we're asking for, like elementary school teachers having prep time for their classes, is reasonable. Having nurses in schools and having librarians in schools is reasonable.”
“We'll do what we need to do to win the schools our students deserve,” says Karen Zaccor, a teacher at Chicago’s Uplift Community High School. “I'm proud of my union for standing up for our students. It's critical that we have nurses, counselors and social workers in our schools.”
“This is not something we do lightly,” says Sharkey. “We expect real substantive changes in the schools, and that’s what we’re fighting for.”
CTU includes teachers, clinicians, paraprofessionals and support personnel, nurses and librarians. Additional support workers—members of the Service Employees International Union, Local 73, who are special education classroom assistants, bus aides, security guards and custodians—are also on strike. The two unions are standing in solidarity.