As the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) and some members of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 73 embarked on a multi-day strike, resulting in classes at Chicago Public Schools (CPS) being canceled, local teachers and support staff were out on the picket line in full force.
The strike began on Oct. 17, and as of press time, no agreement had been reached between the city and CTU members and SEIU Local 73 members who also work for the CPS.
The CTU said it wants better resources in schools—including more nurses, social workers and counselors—while SEIU Local 73 members, who include CPS classroom assistants, custodians and security officers, want better wages.
Over 30,000 people were off the job, and supporters picketed outside local CPS schools, with many of them at Clissold Elementary School in Morgan Park.
Ivy Jefferson, a special-education classroom assistant at the school who is a member of the SEIU, said she wants CPS officials to understand that picketers want the best for students.
“I just think that they need to realize that we’re just advocating for students who don’t have their own voice,” Jefferson said. “We have to speak up for them and make sure that they get the support that they need on a daily basis, whether it be nurses, counselors or extra assistance in the classroom. The only way that can happen is if CPS adheres to what we’re asking for. At the end of the day, we’re here for our students. Their needs are very important.”
CTU and SEIU Local 73 members from Sutherland Elementary School marched down Western Avenue and joined their fellow supporters at Clissold, and motorists honked car horns as they drove by on the second day of the strikes on Oct. 18. Picketers said supporters brought them food and drinks.
The first two days ended with thousands of picketers gathering at Chicago City Hall.
On Oct. 20, CTU President Jesse Sharkey said “significant gains” had been made for his union, including contractual guarantees that CPS will maintain a ratio of 1 adult for 10 every students in pre-K classrooms, as called for by Illinois law. He also said a tentative agreement was in place for a staff position to support students who qualify as homeless. Still, he said, the CTU wants a cap on class sizes.
CPS CEO Janice Jackson said in a statement that day that CPS “is committed to working around the clock to reach agreements that respect and honor the hard work of our teachers and support staff while also protecting the historic academic progress that our students have made in the past decade.”
She said she and Mayor Lori Lightfoot “have worked to create solutions that will promote equity and ensure resources are directed to the schools that need them most” while also touting the raise teachers will receive, saying teachers will have an average salary of almost $100,000.
“We believe our generous compensation, staffing and class-size proposals represent a strong foundation for an agreement that will put us back on the path to success,” Jackson said, “and we are committed to doing what it takes to re-open schools as quickly as possible.”
School buildings have remained open, and charter schools and contract schools are holding classes as scheduled. The Chicago Transportation Authority is offering free rides to students during the strike.
Some students joined the picket line outside Clissold.
Jefferson, who has worked at Clissold since 2010 and with the CPS since 2007, said the issue of more school nurses is a priority for her.
“We have students who may have feeding tubes, or we may have other students who have diabetes; and they need to get their insulin,” Jefferson said. “I just think as a whole, every school should have a nurse every day. Kids come outside, play, get hurt, something may happen in the classroom. A teacher’s assistant can’t do everything. A teacher can’t do everything. So, we need those other professionals to be in the building to help students who have those needs.”
Julie Schuberth, a Clissold kindergarten and first-grade teacher, held a sign claiming that, in 31 days of school, a 6-year-old diverse learner had missed 46.5 hours of service.
She said the Board of Education is failing such students.
“It’s been 31 days of school, and this child has not gotten serviced at all,” Schuberth said, “because the board sends their people in like, ‘Oh, we’ve got to look at your schedules and make sure you really, really need someone.’”
If more counselors are hired, she said, teachers will be freed up from paperwork, which is necessary but time-consuming.
“It’s not bad paper-pushing. It’s paper-pushing that needs to happen because they’re helping with the [individualized education plans] and getting kids services they need,” Schuberth said. “But, then they’re working on a computer, and they’re not working on kids. We need counselors who are freed up to actually work with kids.”
Reyne Powers, a Montessori assistant at Clissold, encouraged Board of Education members to see up-close what teachers and support staff must endure at work.
“What I would really like to do is somebody from the board to come in and sit in the classroom,” Powers said, “instead of sitting downtown, making [six figures], making decisions.”
The CTU went on strike in 2012 for seven days and held a “day of action,” similar to a strike, in April 2016.
The CTU nearly went on strike again in October 2016 before a late-night contract agreement was reached.
Picketers said they are hopeful a deal can be reached.
They would rather be in school, they said, but believe they had to strike.
“In order for you to get what you want, you’ve got to fight for it,” Jefferson said. “You’ve got to make your voice be heard, and unfortunately, a strike is a way that our voices are being heard.”
For updates on the strikes, visit the website at beverlyreview.net.