CHICAGO (CBS) — Chicago Teachers Union President Jesse Sharkey said he had thought until Monday that there had been progress toward a settlement, so that a teachers’ strike that started Thursday would end on short order.
But after Mayor Lori Lightfoot issued a letter urging the Chicago Teachers Union to end its strike without a settlement, saying Chicago Public Schools students “cannot afford to be out of school for any longer,” Sharkey said a quick settlement is no longer likely.
“The mayor today has dashed our hopes for a quick settlement,” Sharkey said.
Sharkey said the union also did not appreciate Lightfoot’s remarks on Monday that the city does not have the money to increase the offers they already made to meet the union’s demands.
“Beyond what we put on the table, there is no more money,” the mayor said Monday afternoon.
Sharkey said, “Unless there’s a chance at the top of the city in regards to making meaningful changes, we are not likely seeing a quick settlement of the current strike.”
While Sharkey and CTU Vice President Stacy Davis Gates will be back at the bargaining table at Malcolm X College on Tuesday, the other teachers who have been involved in negotiations will be on the picket line, Davis said.
Late Monday night, the Mayor’s office issued a statement slamming the teachers’ union’s latest move and saying students were suffering:
“Tomorrow, for the fourth straight school day, students from throughout the city won’t be participating in the athletic competitions they’ve earned the right to compete in, won’t be preparing their college applications with trusted school staff, and won’t be in classrooms with the teachers who hold the keys to their success. We must fix that immediately and end this strike. Real progress has been made on the key contract issues that CTU identified, and written proposals to boost staffing and support overcrowded classrooms have been exchanged. We were encouraged today by the improved pace of bargaining and substantive discussions on key issues, so it is now deeply concerning to hear that CTU is pulling members of its bargaining team away from the negotiating table tomorrow at this crucial juncture. Our full team will be ready first thing tomorrow morning to continue working toward the fair contract our teachers, students, and families deserve.”
In the city’s earlier letter to Sharkey, the mayor and CPS Chief Executive Officer Janice Jackson said it’s unclear from the pace of contract talks whether an agreement can be reached on Monday to end the work stoppage, and urged the union to end the stroke and bring teachers back to work while negotiations continue.
— Dana Kozlov (@DanaCBS2) October 21, 2019
“The CPS team will continue to negotiate in good faith and with the same sense of urgency, and we can close out the remaining issues with our students back in class,” the letter stated.
The union balked right away at the mayor’s request.
“That’s not going to happen,” said teacher and bargaining member Alison Eichhorn. “I don’t know if the mayor’s familiar with what unions do, but we’ve gotten more deals; more tentative agreements in the last two days than we have in 10 months.”
It took a strike to get the district to agree to FOLLOW STATE LAW regarding Pre-K staffing ratios. CPS is under state oversight for special ed violations. That's just two reasons why we're out here. We can’t trust them to do right by students if we go back without a contract.
— ChicagoTeachersUnion (@CTULocal1) October 21, 2019
Rallying in Union Park on Monday, teachers were likewise dismissive of Mayor Lightfoot’s request to end the strike.
“That’s an interesting move,” said teacher Jake Myers. “We could take our one leverage and just throw it away and then she gets all the leverage, so I don’t think we’re going to fall for it.”
“Why would we give in if there’s no promises being kept?” said teacher Barbara Trinh. “It’s not the point of a strike.”
As CBS 2’s Mike Puccinelli reported, the union tried to hold a news conference Monday afternoon. But a man singlehandedly brought it to an end after he started yelling about CTU and CPS through a megaphone and a worker tried and failed to unplug it.
CTU went on strike on Thursday, and bargaining sessions resumed Monday at Malcolm X College. Both sides reported progress in contract talks over the weekend, but it’s unclear how close the district and the union are to a deal.
“Our students and families are sacrificing a great deal that cannot be recovered. While we have made progress at the bargaining table, it is unclear that we can reach an agreement today given the current pace. The students and families of Chicago cannot afford to be out of school for any longer, which is why we are asking you to end the strike and encourage your members to return to work while bargaining continues,” the letter stated.
Lightfoot and Jackson said they’ve heard from parents who have said they’re struggling to arrange for child care during the strike, and face the difficult decision of having to miss work while classes are cancelled at CPS.
Their letter also noted the impact the strike has been having on school sports.
“The Simeon football team, one of the top programs in Illinois, will be ineligible for the state playoffs if the strike is not resolved by Tuesday. Our girls tennis teams were forced to forfeit every match in the state tournament this weekend. Our boys soccer teams, including Solorio High School, looking for its second championship in three years, were unable to participate in the state playoffs,” the letter stated.
The union responded with a bevy of coaches who decried what they say has been the long-running lack of support from CPS.
Hancock High School Coach Froy Jimenez was in particular was seeing red.
“To CPS and to the mayor, red card! Red card!” Froy said. “You have been out of line for years, and it is about time that we use this opportunity to fully fund our sports programs.”
The mayor has also said missed days will not be made up. If that is the case, and the strike stretches until the end of the week, the average teacher could lose more than $2,000 in pay.
But the union members we caught up with in Union Park said they’re willing to pay a heavy price.
“We lost so much in the last strike that we’re trying to recover some of that, so it’s perfectly all right,” said teacher Ann Bramlett. Sometimes you have to sacrifice to get what you need, and the kids need this.”
The mayor says the union’s demands could end up worsening the city’s already-precarious financial condition.
“Beyond what we put on the table, there is no more money,” Lightfoot said.
She said what is needed now is a greater sense of urgency.
“There needs to be an increased sense of urgency on the part of CTU so we can get the job done, we can reach resolution, we can get our kids back in school,” Lightfoot said.
Meantime, the union has invited Rev. Jesse Jackson to mediate contract talks between CTU and CPS.
“Rev. Jackson is a respected resident of our city and great statesman for our nation. He has won the freedom of American hostages throughout the world and has broken countless labor stalemates throughout the country, and we welcome his participation in these negotiations,” Sharkey said in a statement.
Also Monday, Chicago Board of Education has postponed its October meeting, which had been scheduled for Wednesday, until contract talks have been settled.