Your Chicago teacher negotiations tracker: Classes cancelled; teachers ready with picket signs

This tracker chronicles negotiations between the teachers union and Mayor Lori Lightfoot in the months leading up to a strike. For the latest updates, check out our coverage of the Chicago teachers strike, including live blogs from the picket lines and the bargaining table.

Oct. 17 : Classes and after-school activities are cancelled for the roughly 300,000 students who attend schools staffed by union teachers, but schools are open. District officials have promised that school buildings will be warm, safe, and serving meals today, but parents shouldn’t expect much in the way of academics. Students are allowed to attend any age-appropriate school in their area, and administrators, non-union staff, and central office staff will be in charge.

The morning will be all about picketing. The Chicago Teachers Union asked teachers to be at their school buildings from 6:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m., while school nurses, social workers, and other clinicians will be picketing outside the district’s downtown headquarters. There’s also a union rally planned for 1:30 p.m.

Union and city negotiators return to the bargaining table this morning after a short day of talks Wednesday. There appears to be some movement on key issues like staffing levels for support staff and class sizes, but the two sides are still at odds on provisions such as the length of the contract and raises for veteran teachers.

Oct. 16: 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.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot still stuck by her negotiators and said her team has done its best to avert a strike.

“We have worked hard at the table to listen to the union’s concerns,” said Lightfoot, who lauded the city’s pay offers. “We have tried to provide the best deal that is fiscally responsible.” She said she was focused on making sure students had a safe and warm place to go during the strike.

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

Oct. 15: With public opinion polls favoring teachers, Mayor Lori Lightfoot made a significant shift in her bargaining position, saying the city is 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 during a press briefing Tuesday afternoon.

But just a few hours later, Chicago Teachers Union President Jesse Sharkey said that significant “gaps” remained between City Hall and union negotiators on several issues, including class size, that make a walkout all but unavoidable.

Oct. 14: On 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. In bargaining updates later that night, union officials described some progress but said “time was ticking” as teachers were set to walk off the job 48 hours later.

The mayor issued a statement that said the city’s negotiating team had “expressed a willingness to find solutions” on staffing and class sizes; however, meaningful progress had not been made on other issues.

Oct. 12: In a 72-page offer made public Friday, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot and schools chief Janice Jackson said they were dropping a controversial proposal that would give principals more control over how teachers spend their prep time.

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. Bargaining was set to continue over the weekend.

Oct. 11: Board President Miguel del Valle attended negotiations on Thursday, the first time the senator and longtime progressive community leader has come to the table, as both sides reported another day without a deal. 

Mayor Lori Lightfoot said negotiators were nearing an agreement on class size, one of the key sticking points, but did not say whether she would put a new proposal on the table, according to WBEZ reporter Sarah Karp

The union had a less positive take on the latest negotiations, although it welcomed del Valle’s involvement. 

In a contract negotiations update on Thursday night, Paula Barajas, a special education teacher and negotiating team member, said del Valle agreed with teacher demands but didn’t agree on the need to place staffing demands in the contract. 

“I hope Senator del Valle talks with Mayor Lightfoot about putting forth some more proposals that we can move forward with,” Barajas said. 

Earlier this week, del Valle joined Lightfoot at a press conference and spoke sympathetically to teachers but urged them to settle a contract to avert a strike.  

Without a deal, teachers could walk out on Thursday.

Oct. 10: One week until teachers are slated to strike, negotiations haven’t made significant progress, according to both sides. This week, Mayor Lightfoot accused the teachers union of not responding substantively to the city’s latest offer on pay and benefits and said the union was trying to bargain over issues like housing that are outside the scope of its contract. 

The union, following a national model called “bargaining for the common good,” said that pushing beyond the usual contract demands of salary and benefits is its goal. 

Beyond the press conference barbs, one of the key issues in negotiations is class size. The big ask from the union, adding extra compensation for teachers who oversee crowded classrooms, is modeled on a win by striking Chicago charters teachers last year.  

We’ve also answered parent questions about everything from contingency plans for students to union politics.

Oct. 4: Parents and community members from a new group called the Black Community Collaborative came together in Englewood on Friday afternoon to warn of the negative impacts of a strike on black students.

“Our children deserve stable schools that are prepared to address their needs. Black students matter,” said Natasha Dunn, community engagement coordinator at VOCEL, an early education center in Austin, speaking at a press conference outside of Harper High School.

The group is concerned that any slowdown in academics may set back students applying to colleges or taking Advanced Placement tests. It also worries that students that a strike forces out of school then may be exposed to violence or other harm.

“They rely on teachers and school counselors to assist with completing essays, applications and deadlines for college,” Dunn said. “A strike would limit our children’s access to these opportunities.”

With violence an issue in neighborhoods like Englewood, collaborative members said that out of school, students are more likely to have to cross gang lines or be injured.

“For parents on the South and West sides …  where we send our kids to school is a life-or-death decision,” said Willie Preston, the father of a student at the Chicago High School for Agricultural Sciences, and one of about eight people attending the gathering Friday.

Parents also expressed worry that black students already are struggling from school closures — Harper is in the last stage of being phased out — and a lack of resources at schools with declining enrollment.

The parents are asking for a seat at the table.

“We are requesting that we be a part of the negotiations process, and that we have a permanent seat at the table, so we have the opportunity to speak on behalf of our students, who are lacking the resources to be academically successful in school,” said Tanesha Peeples, deputy director of outreach for the education website EdPost.

With the strike deadline approaching, Chalkbeat is fielding parent questions. Click here to tell us yours.

Oct. 3: Chicago has started planning for how its worst-case scenario — a joint walkout of its 25,000 teachers and 8,000 support staff, bus aides, and lunchroom workers — could impact local families. 

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot and schools chief Janice Jackson have said the 514 district-run schools impacted by the strike would remain open and minimally staffed by principals and non-unionized support personnel. During the city’s 2012 strike, central office staff members were deployed to schools to help manage students whose families did not have other alternatives. 

The city’s 119 charter schools will remain in session during any district teacher walkout. 

During the last citywide teacher strike in 2012, about 5,000 students attended programs run by the city’s park district. This year, the union that represents the majority of park workers is threatening a strike on the same day as teachers, which could narrow options for parents. 

Read more here.

Oct. 3: Could Chicago return to a shorter school day? 

That question is at the core of the latest back-and-forth between City Hall and the Chicago Teachers Union, which has said its 25,000 members will strike on Oct. 17 if negotiators do not settle on a new contract by then. 

The latest twist: The union wants teachers to have an extra 30 minutes of morning prep time for elementary teachers, returning the time teachers had to collaborate before Rahm Emanuel lengthened the school day in 2012.

Where the extra prep time will come from remains unclear. Some parents are concerned it would end up pushing back the start time of elementary school academics, so students would essentially start school a half-hour later.

For more details click here.

Oct. 2: Chicago teachers set a strike date of Oct. 17 and said that, if a deal is not reached, they will walk out schools in a “unified” effort with support staff who are represented by a different union. Leaders from the Chicago Teachers Union issued their announcement after a House of Delegates vote inside headquarters. Union President Jesse Sharkey stood flanked by members of Service Employees International Union 73, which represents staff such as bus monitors, special education assistants, and lunchroom workers.

Not even five months in office, Lightfoot is facing a potential threat of triple strikes. Besides the teachers and school support staff, Chicago Park District employees, who during the 2012 strike cared for students displaced by closed schools, also took a strike authorization vote last week. They are represented by the same union as the school support staff.

After the union announced the strike date, Mayor Lori Lightfoot and schools chief Janice Jackson pledged in a statement that they would keep up “aggressive” bargaining, but if teachers strike, “all CPS school buildings will remain open during their normal school hours to ensure students have a safe and welcoming place to spend the day and warm meals to eat.”

Chalkbeat began asking parents what they wanted to know about the strike in surveys in English and Spanish. 

Sept. 30:  In an effort to more clearly lay out their arguments to the public, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Chicago Public Schools CEO Janice Jackson published a 420-word blog Monday laying out details of the city’s contract offer to teachers and offering an 8% pay hike raise for paraprofessionals. 

The post on the district website contains the most detailed look so far at what City Hall negotiators have put on the table, both for teachers and school aides who are negotiating separately with the district. 

Chicago is facing two potential strikes: one from teachers represented by the Chicago Teachers Union and another from bus aides, special education assistants, lunchroom workers, and other support staff represented by Service Employees International Union. 

In response, the teachers union laid out the continuing areas of disagreement, saying the latest offers fell “far short” of what schools need. 

Here is where several of the key issues stood as of Monday afternoon, only days before the union’s House of Delegates plans to set a possible strike date: 

Pay for educators: The city’s current offer is still a 16% cost-of-living raise across five years for educators, in addition to the yearly increases teachers receive for experience and additional credentialing. The website posted Monday includes salary schedules showing a second-year teacher starting at about $53,000 and earning nearly $73,000 in her fifth year under the new contract.  

Pay for paraprofessionals: The district is offering an 8% pay raise for paraprofessionals, with an immediate 14% pay hike for hard-to-staff nurse positions. The union wants higher minimum salaries for teacher aides, although it says it is nearing agreement on instituting a schedule of automatic raises — like the “steps and lanes” hikes that teachers get for longevity and educational credits.  

Prep time: The district said it listened to feedback from teachers and rolled back its initial proposal that would have awarded principals more control over how teachers spend their prep time. The city says its latest offer preserves the status quo for high school teachers. For elementary teachers, it still proposes increasing principal-directed prep time by one period per week. In a recent survey, educators told Chalkbeat that they generally opposed any effort to add principal-directed prep time. 

The city said Monday that its new offer also includes more investment in professional development for educators.  

Staffing in the contract: Lightfoot and Jackson reiterated their proposal to add 200 social workers and 250 nurses over the next five years and said the offer contains an “ironclad” guarantee against privatizing those jobs. “All employees hired to fill these roles would become full-time employees and CTU members.”

The Chicago Teachers Union said Monday afternoon that the mayor needed to “take it a step further” from a detailed website and allow for open bargaining so that its members could observe negotiations in real time via livestreaming on video. 

The union also said that the mayor’s staffing promises “fall flat” by not being included in the contract. The union wants Chicago Public Schools to bargain over class sizes. 

Sept. 26: Union membership vote by a wide margin to proceed toward a strike, setting the stage for a walkout less than six months into Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s term. Educators say they could walk out as early as Oct. 7, but the 700-member House of Delegates will set an official date at its next meeting Oct. 2. Meanwhile, both sides say negotiations will continue. Click here to read more from our coverage of the vote.

Sept. 25: On the second day of voting by Chicago teachers on whether to authorize a strike, the union said it has seen little progress in talks with the city on key contract demands, including around staffing and class sizes. 

“We are bargaining in good faith and trying to reach an agreement, but what we are really looking for is a change in attitude and seriousness,” union President Jesse Sharkey said at a press conference Wednesday afternoon at union headquarters. He noted some progress on declaring campuses sanctuaries from immigration officials.

Earlier Wednesday, schools chief Janice Jackson said at the monthly board of education meeting that she is confident the city can reach a deal with the union. She said the city was offering a generous pay and benefits package. 

Sharkey spoke following a press conference by volunteer clergy members who were to oversee ballot counting Wednesday evening, as couriers began delivering sealed boxes full of completed ballots. 

Teachers, clinicians and paraprofessional union members are voting this week on whether to authorize a strike. At the same time, the city and the union are bargaining nearly every day, with all-day bargaining scheduled for Friday. 

The question of whether the contract will lock in increases in staff remains a key point of contention, although both sides ostensibly agree on the need to add staff, with hundreds of schools lacking teachers, full-time nurses, and social workers. 

But negotiators have made little progress on health benefits, the length of the contract, and salary. 

The union said it will announce the results of the strike authorization vote on Thursday or Friday. To pass, the union needs 75% of all members to vote in favor. 

Also on Wednesday, the Chicago Principal and Administrators Association published the results of a survey of 300 members who said the majority agree with union demands to limit the amount of principal-directed prep time and want to add more full-day training for teachers. The group represents 1,200 principals, vice principals and administrators and is led by Troy LaRaviere, a former principal.  

In a letter to school officials, LaRaviere also wrote that district officials had overstated principal involvement in the contract negotiations, a charge that Chicago Public Schools denies.

Sept. 20: With less than a week until teachers begin voting on whether to authorize a strike, the war of words between the city and the union continued to escalate. 

At a press conference announcing an expansion of arts education, Mayor Lori Lightfoot accused the union of not responding to many of the city’s contract proposals. 

“There unfortunately remain a number of open issues which we’ve put forward specific proposals on. We need the union to respond,” she said, according to a series of tweets from a WGN news anchor. 

The union, in an impromptu press conference at its offices to respond to Lightfoot’s statements, charged that the mayor’s negotiating team had flooded them with offers covering contract minutiae while ignoring demands for substantial staffing increases and student supports. 

On Tuesday, the union will open its three-day window for strike authorization voting. If it wins approval from three-quarters of its members, teachers could walk out as early as Oct. 7.

To attract attention, the union has encouraged members to wear red, the Chicago Teachers Union’s color, on Fridays and has been tweeting photos of teachers, like this one from Ogden-Jenner.

Sept. 19: Pressure on the city has grown as another union set a date to take a strike vote.

The union representing special education classroom aides, bus aides, and custodians rejected a neutral fact-finder’s report on Monday. That puts those workers on the countdown to a strike that could legally happen Oct. 17 at the earliest. 

Meanwhile, the conversation on the strike has been broad-ranging. 

The Chicago Tribune editorial board urged teachers to take the deal. The editorial elicited a Twitterstorm of criticism arguing with its conclusions.

Chalkbeat also spoke to teachers about a wonky but important contract issue on the table — how much the agendas for teacher prep time is controlled by principals versus set by teachers. The school district has proposed increasing the proportion of prep time overseen by principals. Most teachers responding to a Chalkbeat survey are vehemently opposed.

Sept. 11: As teachers union President Jesse Sharkey and Mayor Lori Lightfoot met for the first time in person on Tuesday, both sides were still far apart on key issues needed to seal a contract deal, including teacher prep time and staffing needs. 

In a letter to members, which include more than 25,000 teachers and support staff, Sharkey said the mayor was “willing to talk about issues” but not to “listen to the needs of classroom educators and the families of our students.” 

Even with that jab, it’s still a friendlier tone than Sharkey and his predecessor Karen Lewis used for former Mayor Rahm Emanuel in the lead-up to the 2012 teacher’s strike, as Shia Kapos at Politico pointed out

At an unrelated press conference on Tuesday, Lightfoot said the meeting was positive.

“I think it was a good start in getting to know each other better,” she told reporters. In multiple recent public appearances and statements, Lightfoot has said that she feels the deal she is offering teachers, with a 16% pay raise over five years, is a fair one. 

The union, meanwhile, has continued to shift the conversation toward concern about packed classrooms too few librarians. (Watch the union’s bargaining update video here.

With about two weeks until the union holds a strike authorization vote, Sharkey asked members to keep talking to students and families to build solidarity in schools to “help people understand the opportunity we have to truly transform our schools.”

Both sides are expected to be at the bargaining table twice more this week, a faster pace than the once-a-week schedule during the summer.

Additional reporting by Heather Cherone. 

Sept. 5: In her first public remarks since the teachers union announced a strike vote date, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot told reporters at a Thursday morning press conference that she remained confident of avoiding a looming teachers strike.

Sept. 4: The representative body of the Chicago Teachers Union voted unanimously to hold a strike authorization vote on Sept. 26. If three-quarters of the union’s members agrees then to authorize a strike, teachers could walk out by Oct. 7. 

The 700 members of the House of Delegates voting Wednesday represent various groups of teachers — some at a school and some,  like clinicians and social workers, citywide. The union represents more than 25,000 teachers and support staff, including paraprofessionals and school social workers. 

“We cannot get the equity and educational justice that candidate Lightfoot promised unless those promises are enshrined in an enforceable contract by Mayor Lightfoot and CPS,” union President Jesse Sharkey said.


As teachers went back to school on Tuesday, without a contract, both Chicago district unions went on the PR offensive and rehearsed walking picket lines.

On the first day of school, the Chicago Teachers Union called a 5 a.m. press conference at Benito Juarez Community Academy in Pilsen, a school that lost money and staff under the mayor’s schools budget

The union also announced that it would likely hold a vote near the end of the month on whether or not to strike. In order for teachers to legally walk out, a state law passed during former Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s tenure requires that at least 75% of union members must vote in favor of a strike.

Service Employees International Union Local 73, which represents support staff, also practiced its picket lines. Its 8,000 members have been working under an expired contract for more than a year and already have authorized a strike. 


Meanwhile, thousands of Chicago students started the school year without a classroom teacher. The district still has not filled 700 teaching positions, a 3.3% vacancy rate.

The teachers union has called for hundreds of new jobs to support teachers, particularly special education aides and mental health professionals, and has argued for more flexible prep time and increased pay for teachers.


On Tuesday, we also spoke to a handful of parents outside Salazar Elementary Bilingual Center, one of the mayor’s three education-related press stops on the first day of school. 

One of the questions we asked was parents’ thoughts on a looming teachers strike. Of the four parents Chalkbeat interviewed, three were supportive of teachers, while one wasn’t aware of the possibility of a strike. 

Salazar parent Sharese Scott said about teachers, “They are the parent away from home, so I believe that they should be paid more because they have to do a lot.”

Aug. 29: Lori Lightfoot celebrated her first 100 days as mayor by ticking off her accomplishments since taking office. When it comes to schools, those include appointing a new school board that has tried to make dealings more transparent and drafting an “equity-focused” budget for schools.

But she hasn’t yet resolved one pressing item on her to-do list: a contract with the Chicago Teachers Union. Her latest offer, unveiled in late August, would give teachers a 16% raise across five years — but the union is rejecting it.

Here’s what you need to know about Lightfoot’s offer and the future of the contract talks

  • The city sweetened its offer this week — and notes that some teachers would get major raises.
  • There are dark clouds on the city’s financial horizon. 
  • Still, options to pay for a new contract are on the table. 
  • A city budget doesn’t rule out improvements for teachers later — but the union is skeptical. 
  • A strike remains possible, but city officials say they’re confident about reaching a settlement.

Aug. 27: The day after the Chicago Teachers Union formally rejected a neutral fact-finder’s report that called for wage and health benefits primarily on the city’s terms, schools chief Janice Jackson appeared on WBEZ’s Morning Shift radio program and said she was confident the district could avert a strike. 

The pay offer from the district is “one of the largest increases in CTU history,” Jackson said. On Aug. 26 Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot said she would up her offer to the 16% that the fact-finder advised, at a cost of $351 million across five years. 

And while she was sympathetic to teachers who had endured pay freezes and furloughs in the past decade, Jackson said it was unfair to expect Lightfoot to compensate for years of disinvestment in one contract. 

“If we had all the money in the world we’d pay them the money professional athletes get,” Jackson said. “This is a fair contract given the financial constraints we have. We are moving in the right direction.”

Aug. 21: As the union gears up for a possible strike as early as late September, members gathered at a public meeting to build support. 

On Tuesday, hundreds of teachers collected posters and flyers to bring back to their schools, listened to other community groups in support of the union’s efforts, and heard talking points about the contract to bolster teachers’ confidence as a possible strike draws closer. 

During its 2012 strike, the Chicago union garnered national attention for efforts to build public support, and recent meetings and rallies show how it’s using similar tactics this time around. 

“We have to do the same thing we did in 2012, which is get teachers organized and talk to parents,” said Conor Klaus, a science teacher at Sabin Dual Language Magnet School. “But most people sound like they’re ready to strike.”

Another main theme came out of the members meeting — the challenges facing special education teachers in a district criticized for underfunding the needs of those students. Teachers discussed understaffed teams, hours of paperwork, and unsustainable caseloads in special education. 

Sharina Ware, special education teacher at Walter H. Dyett High School for the Arts, said if the authorization vote were held today, she would be ready to strike.

(by Catherine Henderson) 

Aug. 13: Frustrated at a fact-finder’s report that only addressed pay and not school conditions as well, the president of the teachers union has said that if City Hall and the Chicago Teachers Union don’t strike a deal, the earliest the union could strike would be late September. 

In an appearance on WTTW-Channel 11 Monday night, President Jesse Sharkey also contradicted Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s description last week that negotiations were progressing and that a deal would be reached by the start of school on Sept. 3. 

“Negotiations are behind,” he said. And while they haven’t seen the progress they want, the tone is “getting more serious,” he said.

He also discussed the recently leaked preliminary fact-finder’s report produced by a neutral party tasked with judging the negotiating offers of both sides. 

“What’s wrong with it is that it doesn’t address teaching and learning conditions,” Sharkey said. 

The union has made increased staffing one of its key demands. Lightfoot has pledged to fund hundreds of new social workers, special education case managers, and nurses at schools over five years. The union wants those positions included in the contract. 

Related: Union representing special education aides, bus aides and custodians wins strike authorization

Lightfoot said last week that she was optimistic about reaching a deal coming by the beginning of the school year. 

Meanwhile, the district continues to negotiate a contract with Service Employees International Union Local 73, the union representing nearly 8,000 Chicago Public Schools support staff whose work ranges from working with special education students to staffing metal detectors at school entrances, and which won a strike authorization vote last month.

Aug. 9: A neutral fact-finder has recommended a 16% pay raise for teachers over five years, an amount close to the board’s proposal. The report warns that while the district’s financial fortunes are doing better, they could still take a turn for the worse next school year. 

The report by fact-finder Steven Bierig was leaked to Chicago public television station WTTW. The report had been expected to be publicly released later this month. 

Bierig proposed awarding teachers a 3% raise in each of the next three school years, and a 3.5% raise in each of the two years after that. He noted that his pay proposal keeps up with projected inflation in the initial years, and adds a slight cushion in the final two years. Mayor Lori Lightfoot had initially offered a 14% increase over five years.

In a letter to members Friday morning, the union deemed the fact-finder’s proposal “inadequate.” It has been seeking a 15% raise over three years. 

Bierig also proposed the district not increase health care contributions for teachers for the next two years, but then raise them a quarter of a percent in years three and four, and half a percent in year five.

The fact-finder also punted some issues back to the two sides to negotiate, including the union’s demand for adding more teachers and support staff. Other issues he did not address included paid time off, teacher evaluation, substitute teachers, class size, community schools, and sanctuary schools, among others. 

In its message to members, the union said it was disappointed that the fact-finder had declined to address issues that impacted classroom quality for students. 

You can read the report in full here. 

Aug. 8: To the surprise of many observers, Mayor Lori Lightfoot sounded optimistic Thursday about the prospects of settling a long-simmering contract dispute with the teachers union, based on a fact-finder’s report expected to be released within two weeks.

“There’s no reason why we shouldn’t get a deal done by the beginning of the school year,” Lightfoot said at a budget briefing at Morgan Park High School. “[The fact-finder] recognizes and respects the offer that we put on the table.” 

Lightfoot mentioned the status of bargaining at the tail end of a press conference about the 2019-20 Chicago schools budget, which includes $10 million for 95 caseworkers, nurses, and social workers — wraparound services that the union has pressed to be included in the contract. Lightfoot said the budget demonstrates her commitment to support staff in schools. 

Hours earlier, the Chicago Teachers Union held its own press conference about the budget.

Union President Jesse Sharkey wants the wraparound services included in the teachers contract, not just in the budget. 

“CPS has a history of playing games with budget numbers,” Sharkey said. 

Both parties have seen the fact-finder’s report. Its release will set off a 30-day countdown to a possible legally permitted strike.

(by Catherine Henderson) 

Aug. 1: Chicago residents may be familiar with vocal red-shirted teachers demonstrating for higher pay and more support staff. But away from the gaze of the public and TV cameras,  the Chicago Teachers Union is busy firming up its ranks in the runup to a possible contract showdown next month.

This week, the union held a pair of meetings on the Southwest and Northwest sides, inviting rank-and-file teachers to discuss the needs at their schools and share their concerns with aldermen.

In Pilsen, Alderman Byron Sigcho-Lopez of the 25th Ward listened to about 25 educators crowded into the Lozano Public Library. In Albany Park, Aldermen Rossana Rodriguez and Carlos Rosa, of the 33rd and 35th wards respectively, held another meeting in leafy Horner Park.  

Union organizer-teachers talked about demands for better pay and benefits, more staffing and smaller class sizes, and stepped-up protections for immigrant students. 

In response, teachers talked about their struggles to ensure adequate services for special education students and counseling for students experiencing violence and trauma. They also discussed the merits and drawbacks of background checks for volunteers, which some argued locked out undocumented families while others said provided protection in a district that has admitted it failed hundreds of students who suffered sexual abuse in schools. 

Both meetings gave a peek into an organizing strategy that has made the Chicago Teachers Union a national leader in labor. 

The aldermen, all Socialists who received campaign contributions from the union, promised to support teacher demands, but Sigcho-Lopez admitted that the City Council had no direct leverage over the school district. 

Still, as intended, the afternoon appeared to bolster the audience of teachers.

Angela Bradley, who teaches at Mason Elementary in North Lawndale, said that she felt heard about the lack of equity in her neighborhood, which houses “the most run-down schools in the district.” 

Learning that her local alderman, Michael Scott, chairs the City Council’s education committee, she felt spurred to action. 

“It kind of empowered me,” Bradley said. “Who has the power and how do I get a seat at the table?”

July 30: In a surprise announcement during a press conference about teacher recruitment at high-poverty schools, Mayor Lightfoot dropped the news that she’d be funding hundreds of new social workers, special education case managers and nurses at district schools over the next five years. 

The move to add staff that teachers have been seeking — but not necessarily on the union’s terms — prompted an immediate reaction.

The union has made increased staffing one of its key demands (the union is asking the district to hire nearly 5,000 teachers, professionals and aides, at a cost of $880 million over three years). 

In response, the union doubled down on its push to get staffing promises enshrined in the contract, arguing it would ensure that hired staff be fully licensed, and that the work would be kept in house and not contracted out. 

“The staffing commitment the mayor made today still falls far short of the sweeping need in our schools,” union President Jesse Sharkey wrote in a statement. “And they must be supported not by a press release or a public pledge but by a real commitment in revenue and a legally binding agreement with the CTU on behalf of the students for whom we advocate.” 

Here’s what everyone is putting on the table:
Lightfoot’s team is proposing:

By the 2021-22 school year, two full-time special education case managers at schools with 240 or more special education students, and one full-time case manager at schools with 120 or more special education students. She also proposed adding 200 social workers to Chicago schools over the next five years, along with 250 full-time nurse positions.  

Here is the full list of requested staffing ratios from the CTU: 


  • 1 full-time librarian for every school
  • 1 full-time restorative justice coordinator at every school
  • 1 full-time certified school nurse for every school
  • Counselors: 1 for every 250 students 
  • Psychologists: 1 for every 500 general education students
  • Social workers: 1 for every 250 general education students, 1 for every 50 special education students
  • Occupational and physical therapists: caseload maximums of 30 students each
  • 1,000 teacher assistants for elementary and 1,000 for high schools
  • Schools with 50 or fewer special education students should have a part-time case manager, schools with 51 to 100 special education students should have a full-time case manager and schools with more than 100 special education students should have at least 1.5 case managers. 

July 25: With bargaining ongoing and the union’s tone toward City Hall growing sharper, this week schools chief Janice Jackson said that in an act of “good faith” — that’s in her words — she would recommend extending a $10 million program that pairs 20 schools with non-profit community groups.

The union’s 2016 contract with the district established the program, praised for its innovative approach to harnessing community connections. But the program wasn’t implemented until last summer, the final stretch of the union’s contract, and the district hasn’t tracked how well it works or not kept data to show its efficacy.

The union has said community schools are a key part of negotiations and that it would like to increase the number of participating schools from 20 to 75.

Also this week, the union publicly emphasized that a September strike was still on the table if negotiators don’t reach a deal on a new contract.

Meanwhile, a fact-finder expects to issue a report in mid-August, setting off the 30-day countdown to a legally permitted strike. 

Staffing has been the key issue in negotiations so far. Besides raises, the union is asking the district to hire nearly 5,000 additional teachers, professionals and aides, at a cost of $880 million over three years. But Lightfoot’s initial offer of $300 million over five years doesn’t include any line items for staff — the mayor has said she’ll deal with staffing needs outside of the contract. 

At Wednesday’s school board meeting, Christel Williams-Hayes, CTU recording secretary and Chicago parent, pleaded for the mayor to invest in schools.

“We have yet to be presented with proper proposals. It’s a shame that CPS is not considering what our teachers propose,” Williams said.

The mayor has issued even-keeled statements promising that schools will be well-resourced and well-run for all students.

“Mayor Lightfoot has been clear from day one about her promise to deliver bold reforms to our public school system that will put equity first and provide a high-quality education for every student in every community,” her statement read. “Together with CPS, the mayor is committed to continuing good-faith negotiations with CTU.” 

Besides teachers, the union representing 8,000 support workers also has threatened a strike. 

Members of the Service Employees International Union Local 73 voted overwhelmingly to authorize a strike if contract negotiations don’t move forward. The employees have gone more than a year without a contract. They have joined the Chicago Teachers Union on picket lines, most recently outside Wednesday’s board of education meeting.