48 hours to Chicago teachers strike: Both sides describe progress — but still no deal

Bargaining between City Hall and the Chicago Teachers Union will resume Tuesday, but with only 48 hours for Mayor Lori Lightfoot and the union to reach a deal or have the city’s 25,000 teachers and clinicians walk off the job, union officials said “time was ticking.” 

Speaking to the press Monday night, union President Jesse Sharkey said there had been “some progress” on class size and staffing — two major points of contention in the back-and-forth — but conversations had stopped short of finding agreement on language for the contract.

Shortly after Sharkey’s remarks, Mayor Lori Lightfoot and school chief Janice Jackson said in a statement that the city’s negotiating team had “expressed a willingness to find solutions” on staffing and class sizes “that would be written directly into the contract” but that meaningful progress had not been made on other issues. “We remain committed to getting a deal done, as our teachers, students and families deserve no less,” the statement said. 

Both sides sounded more positive than they had at the end of last week. The union suggested a compromise on its demands that Chicago hire more nurses, social workers, and special education case managers, by agreeing to staff the most in-demand schools first.

The deadline for a deal is fast approaching. The union’s representative 700-member House of Delegates must first vote on any proposed contract agreement before a strike is averted. Leadership has called a House of Delegates meeting for Wednesday evening, and will give members a summary of the district’s latest offer to consider on Tuesday. 

On Monday, a day that schools were closed due to Columbus Day / Indigenous People’s Day, thousands of unionized educators and supporters flooded downtown for a solidarity rally with national and statewide union leaders. They were also joined by members of Service Employees International Union Local 73, which represents special education and bus aides who are also threatening to strike Thursday. 

In a video posted shortly before the rally began, Lightfoot told teachers that her office was “taking every step” to make sure they felt safe and supported at the rally. “Everything we put on the table is grounded in our fundamental respect for the dignity of teachers and school staff,” she said. “To all taking part in today’s rally, I want you to know that we hear you. I respect what you stand for.”

A survey conducted by ABC7 and the Chicago Sun-Times of 600-some Chicagoans found that nearly half would support a teachers strike, with 38% opposed. 

There has also been some movement, albeit outside of the contract, on one of the broader social justice demands of the union: more affordable housing for teachers as well as homeless Chicago families. Crain’s Chicago Business reported Monday the mayor will put together an affordable housing task force to review the city’s affordable housing requirements. 

Chicago Public Schools has been updating its contingency plans on its website. Schools will be open and minimally staffed by principals and non-unionized staff. The district also rescheduled the PSAT/SAT college entrance exam for high schoolers to Oct. 30. Testing had originally been scheduled for this week.