But CTU Says There Has Been Progress


CHICAGO (CBS) — No deal had been reached late Thursday as negotiations between the Chicago Teachers Union and the Chicago Public Schools continued and thousands of striking teachers and their supporters marched downtown.

Officials announced Thursday evening that Chicago Public Schools will be out a second day on Friday, which will be the second day of the strike.

But CTU President Jesse Sharkey said talks made progress at least one major front.

Approximately 25,000 teachers walked off the job and hit the picket lines Thursday morning, schooling the city on their demands.

“It shouldn’t take 20,000 people in the street to get a serious proposal,” said CPS teacher Jennifer Johnson.

Meanwhile, union and CPS negotiators met at Malcolm X College to resume efforts to hammer out an agreement.

Negotiations between the Chicago Teachers Union and the City of Chicago have been hung up over two major issues: class sizes and staffing.

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Teachers say 1,300 classrooms are over crowded. They also want more librarians, nurses and counselors.

They want solutions to these issues written into the new contract.

CTU President Jesse Sharkey and Vice President Stacy Davis Gates emerged from Thursday’s negotiations at 1:30 p.m. to join the teachers gathering for an afternoon march in the Loop. They said other negotiators continued talks with CPS during the rally.

“I think we’ll have time to get something meaningful done. You know, we’re in the first step,” Sharkey said.

When CBS 2 Political Investigator Dana Kozlov asked Sharkey whether the CTU would stay at the table all night if things were progressing, he said that was highly unlikely as well. He said it would not be productive, and negotiations did end for the night on Thursday evening.

Talks on Thursday went on for about 10 hours altogether.

“People still have to be able to think, and people have to have their wits about them to do this work, and ultimately teachers are going to need to read stuff and make some decisions,” he said.

Gates said the two sides have reached an agreement that “equity should be a priority for how class size is implemented here in the Chicago Public Schools.”

“Class size has to look differently in different parts of the city. You know, we have all 50 wards, and all 50 wards have its own personality. The impacts in Roseland are different from the impacts in Dunning,” she said. “There’s a difference there, and if we’re hoping for real transformation with this contract, then we have to respect those differences. There’s agreement at the table that we should be respecting those differences.”

That is just one of many non-economic issues dividing the Chicago Teachers Union and the Chicago Public Schools – and one frequently cited in the back-and-forth rhetoric leading up to the strike, making it difficult to know fact from fiction.

For instance, there is this claim on Wednesday from Gates: “Let’s talk about the billion dollars in extra revenue that they’re getting from the State of Illinois. Let’s talk about that. Because that billion dollars is supposed to lower class size.”

It is true that CPS got $1 billion from the 2017 Education Funding Reform Bill – but $800 million went to pensions, while the $200 million went to CPS labor and infrastructure costs.

The union has also criticized Mayor Lori Lightfoot for failing to fulfill her campaign promises.

“I think what they need to do is go to our offer, cps.edu/ouroffer, because what you’ll see there is that we’ve made on the things that I said during the campaign,” Lightfoot said.

Yet, the mayor did say, in a 2018 Chicago Sun-Times article, that she would “provide each school with basic educational support positions like librarians, nurses and social workers.”

That is still a point of contention now.

Meanwhile, as CBS 2’s Charlie De Mar reported Thursday night, CTU union negotiators said they also received a written proposal on class size. That’s the good news.

“The bad news is the substance of the proposal doesn’t go anywhere near far enough to address overcrowding in the Chicago Public Schools,” said CTU attorney Robert Block.

“Today, we received the first serious counterproposal for class size when we have been bargaining for 10 months,” Johnson added.

The CTU says the offer does not include caps on how big a class can be – a sticking point for teachers.

CPS has also yet to put anything into writing on staffing for nurses, librarians, social workers, case managers, and clinicians. The union presented the city with a revised staffing proposal on Thursday.

“I think what you’re going to find is a pattern here – we see movement but not nearly enough,” said CPS teacher Jackson Potter.

“We’re willing TO bargain hard tomorrow. If it goes into the weekend we will stay at bargaining table,” Johnson added. “We love students. Take that seriously. But we’re going to do what it takes to get what we need before we go back.”

As for Mayor Lightfoot on Thursday, she and her wife stopped by Breakthrough Arts and Science Academy in East Garfield Park to read to students before the protesters hit the streets. All schools in Chicago are open during the strike, and the students were spending the day in class – but without teachers.

Just Wednesday, Mayor Lightfoot said the city agreed to write terms on class sizes and staffing into the contract, that but that the teachers’ union continued to add more requests, including 30 minutes of shorter instructional time in the morning and getting paid for unused sick days.

The teachers also want a 15% raise across a three-year deal. The city offered a 16% raise across five years.

“I am here because I am fighting to make our students a priority,” said Andrea Park, who works at Robert Fulton Elementary. “My school does not have a librarian. We have a library with books, but there is no librarian. So guess what. I have to be the librarian.”

“There’s a specific provision in the contract now. The union has said that’s not good enough,” Lightfoot said Wednesday. “We put together a framework based on conversations with the union that is different from the current contract provisions regarding class sizes.”

The teachers’ union has said it will continue negotiating.

“We are not moving an further on money, because we can’t,” Lightfoot said. “I thought it was important for us after we went through the fact finding process to advance a very fair and generous compensation package for our teachers and we believe that we’ve done that. I am hopeful we will continue discussions.”

Both sides were set to return to the bargaining table at Malcolm X College on Friday morning, and continue the negotiations, where the union said staffing and special education resources are the top priorities.

The unions aid it was still too early to say whether classes would be back in session Monday.