Tentative agreement provides path for real change in Chicago

After months of negotiations and 11 days on the picket lines, the Chicago Teachers Union reached a tentative contract agreement with Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot. They were able to overcome the mayor’s initial refusal to agree to instructional makeup days for the school days lost to the strike—a disagreement that prolonged the strike for another day. Teachers, support staff and students returned to school Nov. 1.

CTU ends strike

Like so many of their colleagues across the nation, these educators were fighting for better conditions in their public schools—specifically, for smaller class sizes and more school nurses, social workers, school psychologists, counselors and other critical frontline staff.

“This historic fight for what students deserve represents a paradigm shift: It wasn’t simply a fight to mitigate the damage of austerity, it was a fight to create the conditions that both students and educators need,” AFT President Randi Weingarten says. “This strike, like so many other fights to fund our future, is about building the political will to strengthen our public schools so all kids have their shot at success.”

Weingarten notes that more than 20 years ago, in 1995, educators in Chicago were stripped of their right to bargain, and with that, they lost their voice to influence their students’ learning conditions and their own teaching conditions. As a result, Chicago’s students—particularly students of color and students with special needs—lost out on so many things they needed in schools, including losing many of the neighborhood public schools themselves. “This contract is the culmination of a generational struggle to make up those losses,” she says.

From the beginning, CTU members had the overwhelming support of parents, students and community members. CTU members were also joined on the picket lines by members of the Service Employees International Union, Local 73, who are special education classroom assistants, bus aides, security guards and custodians.

The tentative agreement between CTU and the Chicago Public Schools reflects a number of the CTU’s demands, including:

  • Enforceable staffing increases: 209 additional social worker positions, a social worker assigned to every school, a case manager assigned to every school and 250 additional nursing positions by the end of the contract.
  • Staffing pipeline: $2.5 million in recruitment and training programs for clinicians, $2 million in tuition and licensure for nurses, increased investments in “grow your own” teacher pipeline programs, and 50 percent tuition reimbursement for teachers to earn an endorsement to work in English learner and/or bilingual education programs.
  • Class-size: $35 million annually to reduce oversized K-12 classrooms across the district, prioritizing schools serving the most vulnerable students.
  • Special education: Development of special education individualized education plans will be made solely by the IEP team; principals will be required to use substitutes or release time to provide adequate time for special education duties; special ed teachers will have common preparation periods with general education teachers where possible; special ed teachers will be the last to be called to cover classes; a $2.5 million annual fund to reduce workload for counselors, case managers and clinicians.
  • Salary increases:
    • Salaries will increase 16 percent over the life of the contract (17 percent compounded).
    • Average PSRP pay will increase nearly 40 percent during the contract term.
    • Starting PSRP salaries will increase 5-9 percent depending on grade. 
    • Veteran teachers (step 14 and above) will receive an additional aggregate $5 million in salary increases ($25 million over five years). 

“This historic agreement recognizes and values the voice and experience of Chicago educators, and turns the page and provides a new pathway for CPS and our rank-and-file members to do right by students and families,” CTU President Jesse Sharkey says. “This deal will move us closer to ensuring that our most vulnerable students receive the instruction, resources and wraparound services they need to thrive. No educator wants to leave their classroom, but our 10-day struggle was the only option we had to enshrine, ensure and enforce real change for our students and school communities.”

“Together with SEIU Local 73 and every parent, student and ally who stood with CTU Local 1—including our state affiliate, the Illinois Federation of Teachers—we know this: We have helped make Chicago’s public schools safe, welcoming sanctuaries of learning, and we have shown an entire nation that when we fight together, we win,” says Weingarten.

[Adrienne Coles, CTU press release]