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On fourth day of strike, CTU-CPS bargaining stalls

October 22, 2019

As the CTU Local 1 and SEIU Local 73 strikes stretched into their fourth school day on Tuesday, bargaining between the CTU and Mayor Lori Lightfoot and CPS seemingly stagnated after a weekend with relative progress regarding staffing throughout CPS and elementary school class sizes.

Monday, Lightfoot and CPS CEO Janice Jackson sent CTU President Jesse Sharkey a letter in which they urged the Union to “stay at the bargaining table and accelerate the pace, but end the strike and encourage your members to come back to work.”

The letter further acknowledged, in part, that “as leaders in the City of Chicago, there is no question that we share a common commitment to supporting the children of our great city.”

The Teachers Union — the demands of which, according to their website, include “better pay and benefits, fully staffed schools, smaller class sizes, and justice for students and families” — has repeatedly requested that Lightfoot embed her promises, as introduced on Sept. 30 and updated on Oct. 11, into an enforceable contract.

These promises, which include lowering the ratio of students to social workers to between 400:1 and 450:1 and having a full-time nurse in every school by 2024, according to their website, are in keeping with the Teachers Union’s demands, but because of concerns regarding the inflexibility and impracticality of universal quotas and minimums across Chicago’s schools, as well as pulling faculty members from already under-served schools by posting positions in more affluent areas, Lightfoot has declined to put them into a contract.

This has caused teachers to rebuke Lightfoot and Jackson’s letter and remain on the picket line until a full contract is reached.

According to Lane music teacher Mr. Flygt, the Union has little reason to trust that a fair contract can be bargained after returning to work.

“It seems like the mayor and CPS is really kind of doing something firm and trying to stonewall us and put a line in the sand. I think that’s a little ridiculous, just asking us to go back to work,” Flygt said. “I think it’s manipulative. The reason I think it’s manipulative is because why would we go back and trust their word when we’ve been trying to negotiate things for ten months?”

Mr. Veren, a Lane band teacher, reiterated this point.

“I think there’s this narrative that we don’t want to go back to work. Of course we want to be in school right now, but you’ve gotta do what you’ve gotta do,” Veren said. “I don’t think going back to school and waiting for a deal is going to work.”

Students on the Lane picket line seem to feel the same way.

According to Elizabeth Ziemer, Div. 170, work stoppage is a non-optimal but necessary action.

“I would much rather be in school right now,” Ziemer said. “I think sitting around and waiting for the strike to be over is wasting valuable time we could be using preparing for AP exams or the PSAT.”

Ziemer continued, “I’d rather be in school, but that doesn’t mean I can’t still support the teachers who are striking when it happens.”

But though teachers and students alike prefer to be in school and believe they are striking in the students’ best interest, there are consequences that may contradict this notion.

Lightfoot and Jackson’s letter says the “economic hardships to families [caused by the strike] will be difficult to ever calculate,” and goes on to cite forfeited sports championship games and a canceled college fair as reasons why returning to work is best for Chicago’s students.

At Lane, the strike has resulted in shifting the Homecoming game from football, the sport it has traditionally surrounded, to basketball, and may include a three-day spirit week as opposed to a typical five-day one.

Leah Aberman, Div. 050, says she believes a fair contract is vital to student success, but struggles with squaring this with her concerns as a senior.

“At this rate, my college applications may be affected, my AP classes will be affected, and my graduation also might be affected,” Aberman said. “I think that it’s reached a frustrating point where it could go on for who knows how long, and while I fully support the teachers, I also would like to be able to attend school and keep my education on track.”

Noah Tomko-Jones, Div. 190, agrees with Aberman, but stands firmly with the Union.

“I hope [the strike] doesn’t go much longer, because then I think it’ll start to get crazy. Teachers will have to work extra, and students by extension, then, too, to catch up for the days lost, and it’s going to throw the fall play off, it’s going to throw Homecoming off, Spirit Week, everything, so that’s going to be chaotic,” Tomko-Jones said. “But I think at the end of the day that all that stuff will get fixed. Everything will work out fine. I think what’s more important is that the teachers get what they want.”

According to Mr. Rummelhoff, a Lane math teacher, the duration of the strike will not cause his beliefs to waver.

“I think that I would strike as long as the Union felt we were making progress towards the goals that we see is best for all students. If it’s five days, seven days, 10 days, 12 days, I’ll be out here,” Rummelhoff said. “I do know that I am making a difference and I am standing up for what I believe is right and just for the students in the city.”

Wednesday, the CTU plans to rally at City Hall ahead of Lightfoot’s first budget address, following her Monday claim that “beyond what we put on the table, there is simply no more money” to meet the CTU’s demands.

According to Rummelhoff, “If we want to have a world-class education, it’s going to cost money, because you need people in students’ lives if you want them to be successful.”

Though no official decisions have yet been made, Sharkey has called on teachers and Union supporters to wear red on Thursday in solidarity with the CTU, indicating that the work stoppage could last until then.

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