Union president tells Chicago parents to prepare for ‘short-term’ strike

Chicago parents should start preparing for a “short-term” teachers strike that will begin Thursday, union President Jesse Sharkey said. 

Flanked by members of the union’s bargaining team who at times gave emotional testimony about the needs in their schools, Sharkey said Tuesday evening that the little time remaining in bargaining and the significant “gaps” remaining on issues, from class size to counselor case loads, make a walkout of the city’s 25,000 teachers all but inevitable. 

Making “important long-term changes in the schools,” Sharkey said, would require “a short-term strike that is going to cause some difficulty and pain.”

The union’s Tuesday night announcement came just hours after Mayor Lori Lightfoot told reporters that she was ready to write staffing and class size promises into the union contract. 

“We have expressed a willingness to find solutions on these two core issues that would be written into the contract,” Lightfoot said. 

The union’s bargaining team of 40-some rank-and-file teachers and organizers will recommend that the union’s 700-member House of Delegates vote against the proposed contract agreement. Leadership has called a House of Delegates meeting for Wednesday evening, when members will vote yes or no on the city’s latest offer. 

Sharkey also said that city proposals fall short on pay for paraprofessionals and for veteran teachers. Negotiators have not agreed on adding more support staff like librarians and counselors. Current proposals would force some schools to choose between one or the other, Sharkey said.

He said that the length of the contract also is still unresolved. The mayor wants a five-year contract, but Sharkey said the union, which wants a shorter deal, will only agree if they believe it will really create change in schools. 

Sharkey said Tuesday that the city and a separate union, Service Employees International Union Local 73, representing school support staff and park district workers, had not yet reached a deal. That means an additional 10,000 workers could be on picket lines Thursday, complicating efforts to keep any parks open as contingency options for families. 

“Three bargaining units, two unions, one mayor, and no deals,” Sharkey said. “Something has got to shift there.” 

Meanwhile, parents all over the city received robo calls from the district updating them about strike plans for students. Schools will remain open but minimally staffed and no instruction will take place. 

In the robo calls, schools chief Janice Jackson asked parents to register their children on the Chicago Public Schools contingency plan site if they plan to take them to school. She said that three meals will be served. City libraries also will be open. 

For more information about the  issues on the table, read our guide.

Want to learn more about the union’s strategy? Here’s a closer look at “common good” bargaining and how it factored in a win for Los Angeles teachers.