With strike vote formalized, teachers rev up for picket lines Thursday

Propelled by weeks of sharp rhetoric and angry that many demands remain unmet, Chicago Teachers Union representatives voted unanimously to strike Thursday, hoping that they will win full-time nurses and smaller class sizes. 

The vote means that more than 25,000 Chicago teachers, clinicians and paraprofessionals represented by the union will strike. In anticipation, the city cancelled classes for its 300,000 students who attend district-run schools. Delegates Thursday reported an upbeat meeting that sent members energetically marching out bearing picket signs and posters. 

Support workers including special education aides and bus drivers, whose union is separately still negotiating a contract, also plan to walk out Thursday. 

“Schools on the south and the west side, they don’t have what they need. I look at my black and brown students and I said, I can’t take this, I’m tired,” said Roselean Parker, a 25-year veteran,  at a press conference after the union’s House of Delegates passed its resolution rejecting the city’s latest offer. Standing on bleachers and surrounded by union delegates in red T-shirts, she said she wanted social workers for her traumatized students and new science books for her classes. 

Across town, appearing at an early learning center in Pilsen, Mayor Lori Lightfoot said she was disappointed that the union plans to walk out despite the city offering what she called a “historic package.”

There was little progress made at the bargaining table Wednesday, Lightfoot noted, as talks focused instead on the next steps in the bargaining process for both CTU and SEIU Local 73. Lightfoot said she hopes talks will resume Thursday.

“I feel like we rolled up our sleeves and negotiated in good faith over a long period of time,” Lightfoot said. “We offered a historic package on CTU’s core issues.” 

The resolution, which technically confirmed a walkout that union members already have authorized, capped months of stop-and-start bargaining between the union and Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s team. 

The strike will continue until the sides negotiate an agreement that wins approval by the House of Delegates, according to the resolution. 

Walking out of the House of Delegates meeting on Wednesday evening, delegates were firm in their decision to strike. 

“It’s been so many years over and over again, we have been understaffed, class sizes have been busting at the seams. I’ve had 37, 38 second graders in a classroom,” said Deborah Davis, a teacher at Hitch Elementary School in Jefferson Park. She said she hopes the strike would produce some lasting change. 

Union President Jesse Sharkey said he hoped the dispute would resolve quickly. “We want to make this a short strike. We want to make this a strike that wins improvements for our schools,” hey said. 

Negotiations will resume on Thursday. 

To read about 10 things we’ll be watching as the strike begins, click here.