Pay is not the only economic issue for striking Chicago teachers

While the Chicago teachers strike is causing classes to be canceled for the fourth day, talks to end the walkout have made some progress but key disagreements have yet to be resolved.

There are new economic issues for this strike that go beyond pay. Now the teachers for the nation's third-largest school district want the city's government to do more to lower housing costs and put more resources into helping homeless students. The demand for affordable housing citywide -- for students and their financially-strapped families as well as for school employees -- is a departure from previous civil strikes. This new stance is part of the union's "social justice" agenda.

On Monday the 25,000 members union flatly rejected Mayor Lori Lightfoot's request to return to classrooms while contract talks continue.

Neither side has spoken publicly about any discussion of the affordable housing issue during bargaining sessions. But the union has made clear that the issue is an important one for its membership.

Chicago is certainly not the only U.S. city where the issue of affordable housing for teachers and other school employees is significant. But Robert Bruno, a professor of labor and employment at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, said he doesn't know of any other cities in which the issue has pushed its way into contract negotiations.

He said that's because the chasm continues to grow nationwide between teachers' salaries and the cost of affordable housing at a time when urban school districts also are having an increasingly difficult time recruiting and retaining teachers.

"Teacher unions around the country are watching this very closely," Bruno said.

The Chicago union hasn't released details of its housing proposal -- and it's unclear what changes, if any, such language would require of the city. But it does include a demand that the district put in writing that it supports any potential city and state policies aimed at making housing more affordable.


Union officials have noted city programs that help members of the police and fire department purchase a home. They've also referenced approaches to help teachers used elsewhere, including a California school district that's building affordable housing for teachers and a Colorado program that covers a portion of teachers' down payment for a home.

Teachers also want more staff dedicated to helping students who are homeless and working with families that are close to losing their housing. The union announced some progress on that issue Sunday night, but exact details haven't been released.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.