CHICAGO (CBS) — Chicago teachers on Wednesday voted to pick a date of Thursday, Oct. 17 to start a strike, should they not reach an agreement with the Chicago Public Schools before that day.
The Chicago Teachers Union and CPS have been negotiating for months, but can’t agree on a contract.
Last week, 94 percent of CTU members voted to authorize a strike.
As CBS 2’s Dana Kozlov reported, this could be the second teachers’ strike in seven years. Before 2012, there had not been a teachers’ strike in 25 years.
The union set its strike date at its headquarters on Carroll Avenue on the Near West Side.
“Part of the reason that we have set a deadline for more than two weeks from now is that we intend to continue bargaining in good faith,” said Chicago Teachers Union President Jesse Sharkey.
CTU leaders say the city’s current proposal isn’t good enough for its 25,000 or so members. The city’s offer of a 16 percent pay hike over five years aside, the CTU wants more social workers, nurses and, librarians and better pay for them. They want all of that written into the contract.
“If we have not achieved a fair contract settlement that addresses our working conditions, our pay, and other critical issues for the students and the parents of the city of Chicago, our union will be on strike,” Sharkey told a cheering crowd.
The teachers also want more teacher prep time and smaller class sizes.
“My story is that last year in my classroom, I had 40 students in my classroom, and that was in second grade – second-grade students, 40 students in our classroom,” teacher Robin Blake Boose said at a CTU rally on Wednesday evening. “And we sit at the bargaining table, and they don’t even want to talk about class size.”
On the other hand, the city and CPS have set up a web page showing the offer they’ve already made to teachers, which includes a 16% pay raise over five years. Teachers have been seeking a 15% raise over a shorter term of three years.
Meanwhile, about 7,500 support staff at CPS and 2,500 employees the Chicago Park District also have authorized strikes. Those workers, represented by SEIU Local 73, gave the news to the mayors office Tuesday that they too could soon walk off the job.
The park district workers could strike by next week. CPS staff represented by SEIU — including special education classroom assistants, custodians, security guards, bus aides, and more — could also strike by Oct. 17.
SEIU warned that a strike by CPS support staff and Park District workers could leave parents without an alternative if teachers also go on strike. That’s because, those support staff and park workers helped provide alternative programming for CPS students during the last teachers’ strike in Chicago in 2012.
Meanwhile, Mayor Lori Lightfoot was at her final city budget town hall Wednesday night at the South Shore Cultural Center. The teachers’ issues did not come up, nor did the strike date.
Kozlov’s repeated requests, even via tweet, asking to talk to the mayor momentarily about it were denied by the mayor’s communications team. The mayor then ducked out of the South Shore Cultural Center and left staffers behind.
Kozlov told staffers that the mayor could have addressed reporters given what a big deal a potential teachers’ strike is to 400,000 parents. But a staffer walked away.
Lightfoot and CPS Chief Executive Officer Janice K. Jackson did issue a statement saying the school system plans to keep buildings open in the event of a work stoppage.
“The teachers and support staff who serve in our district have been essential to the rise of Chicago Public Schools as a national leader in education, and we are committed to honoring and supporting their service by offering the most comprehensive and significant contract proposal in district history, proposing steps to address classroom overcrowding, and committing to hire hundreds of additional nurses, social workers and case managers. We all must continue to work to create a safe and nurturing environment for our children,” the statement said.
“While we are doing everything in our power to reach a fair deal that prevents a strike, we are fully prepared for a work stoppage should one occur,” the statement continued. “In the event of a strike, all CPS school buildings will remain open during their normal school hours to ensure students have a safe and welcoming place to spend the day and warm meals to eat. We will continue bargaining at an aggressive pace to reach a deal that is fair to our teachers and staff, supports the record-setting progress we’ve made, and promotes the best interests of Chicago families, so that we do not have to open our school buildings without the educators and staff members who are so crucial to our district’s success.”
And for CPS parents, some of whom went through the nine-day strike in 2012, it is a mixed bag.
“If that’s really happening, I’m probably going to take some days off from work, and I already used all my vacation,” said parent Qi Zhang.
“I understand the things that they need as far as resources and assistance and things like that, so they have to stand up for themselves, and you know, the rest of us are going to have to deal with it,” said parent Fred Anderson.
Despite the dodge, Mayor Lightfoot will be talking about the issue at a news conference on Thursday morning.