Chicago’s teachers vote to go back to school

Chicago Teachers Union President Jesse Sharkey and vice-president Stacy Davis Gates hug after announcing a tentative contract agreement Wednesday. Chris Sweda/Chicago Tribune

CHICAGO — Thousands of Chicago’s public-school teachers will return to classrooms today, ending a strike that left more than 300,000 students out of school for 11 days, the city’s mayor announced Thursday.

A tentative contract deal between city officials and teachers in the nation’s third-largest school district resolved a tense standoff that had upended the lives of families all over the city and represented the biggest test to date of Chicago’s new mayor, Lori Lightfoot.

The walkout by the Chicago Teachers Union, which lasted longer than any schools strike in this city since 1987, was over an array of issues, beyond traditional questions over pay. The teachers called for more social workers, librarians and nurses in schools, smaller class sizes and protections for immigrant children. Over the last few weeks, teachers marched near schools and through the city’s downtown business district, as negotiations went on with city leaders.

In the end, the city said it had agreed to $35 million to reduce class sizes and hundreds of additional staff members by 2023. The city’s offer included a 16% salary increase over five years.

For Lightfoot, who was elected earlier this year, the strike provided a test of her leadership in a city where labor unions have broad support.

Lightfoot had campaigned on promises to address long-standing inequities in the city and to hire more school nurses and librarians. But she said she was constrained on what she could offer in the contract by the school district’s precarious financial position.

The strike, which was the first multiday work stoppage by Chicago Public Schools teachers since 2012, was the latest in a string of more than a dozen major walkouts by teachers across the country.

The Chicago Teachers Union clashed with Rahm Emanuel, Lightfoot’s predecessor as mayor, during the 2012 strike, which lasted seven school days. In December 2018, Chicago was the site of the first teacher strike at a charter school network.

New York Times

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