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Chicago Teachers Union Delegates Set Strike Authorization Vote For Sept. 26

If three-quarters of the union’s members agrees then to authorize a strike, teachers could walk out by Oct. 7.

Chicago teachers strike in 2012, the union's first strike in 25 years.
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As contract negotiations between Chicago’s new mayor and the teachers union continue, follow Chalkbeat Chicago here for the latest news on the negotiations that could end in labor peace for the mayor, or a teachers strike only months into her tenure. 

CHICAGO — 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, Chalkbeat Chicago 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 Chalkbeat 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. 

Chalkbeat is a nonprofit news site covering educational change in public schools.