With less than a week before strike, Chicago sweetens offer to teachers; union calls it ‘insulting’

Seeking to avoid a strike less than six months into her term, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot said Friday she had sweetened the city’s offer to teachers, pledging an additional $2 million to grow the pipeline of critical support staff and another $1 million to reduce class sizes.

In a 72-page offer made public Friday, she and schools chief Janice Jackson also committed to reducing health co-pays in the teachers’ medical plan and said they were dropping a controversial proposal that would give principals more control over how teachers spend their prep time.

The offer does not include additional money for teachers’ salaries. Lightfoot’s most recent pay offer has been a 16% cost-of-living increase across five years. The city’s latest proposal and a summary document are embedded below. 

“All in all, our offer includes over 80 changes to the collective bargaining agreement on issues requested by the union,” Lightfoot and Jackson said in a joint statement. “We have bent over backwards to meet CTU’s concerns.”

The union quickly rejected the offer, saying it didn’t adequately address the dire needs for support staffing and smaller class sizes in schools. Those issues have been central sticking points in months of negotiations. 

“If you agree that we need smaller class sizes, if you agree that we need a nurse in every school, a social worker in every school, then why won’t you put it in writing?” asked union political director Stacy Davis Gates, calling again for the mayor to place staffing demands in the contract. “Flexibility for the 90% students of color in Chicago has always meant: less, unequal and inequitable.”

In her press release Friday, Lightfoot accused the union of not bargaining in good faith and heading for a strike at all costs. 

Related: Everything we know so far about the growing strike threat in Chicago 

On the staffing offer, one of the more contentious areas of negotiations, the city offered an additional $2 million over five years to build a pipeline to provide more nurses, social workers and case managers for special education students — all hard-to-fill jobs. 

City Hall and the Chicago Teachers Union have disagreed over committing in the contract to adding thousands of support staff positions the union has demanded. The city has pledged to add a smaller number, in the hundreds, across five years, in part because district hiring managers have documented a scarcity of candidates that they say thwarts more substantial staffing increases.

The union has argued the district must write the staff increases into the contract to ensure that new hires are fully licensed and their work is not contracted out to private companies.

In another concession, the district put in language that better protects counselors’ time so they can support students and not be tapped for other duties, such as filling in for absent teachers or supervising lunch or recess.

The union, however, lashed out at the district for ignoring a union request to hire case managers for every school to assist special education teachers in managing paperwork and services for students. 

Read the full offer below.