Chicago teachers union strike continues as contract talks stall between union and city leaders

The Chicago teachers union entered into the weekend without a contract resolution after negotiations broke down following two days of a teachers strike.

While union representatives did highlight some progress, which included a written counterproposal to increase the amount librarians, nurses, special education teachers, bilingual teachers and social workers. However, union officials maintain that such an offer still falls short in terms of the goals set forth by the Chicago teachers union, as teachers seek higher wages and increase in school funding.

“This is something we’ve been fighting and fighting for, and we finally did see some proposals,” CPS school social worker Emily Penn told the Chicago Tribune. “We’re relieved the district actually put it in writing... It is not enough. Hopefully, we can continue to bargain in good faith.”

As a part of the negotiating team, Penn and other Chicago teachers union representatives met with city officials on the other side of the bargaining table at Malcolm X College on Friday, telling the press afterwards that a CPS lawyer had asked union officials to focus more on the negotiations than on rallies and picket line strikes.

Teacher Jesse McAdoo addresses reporters while surrounded by fellow teachers after a meeting of the Chicago Teachers Union House of Delegates at the CTU Center on Wednesday, Oct. 16, 2019, in Chicago. (John J. Kim/Chicago Tribune/Tribune News Service

That comment enraged the teachers union Vice President Stacy Davis Gates, who subsequently responded that “rich white men tell black women with children in the Chicago Public Schools what to do all the time."

Gates added that her name was misspelled in the note from a CPS attorney, who claimed the city “cannot afford to have another three to four recess in negotiations while both of you are gone.”

“My name is misspelled. So pay attention to what’s being said here," Davis Gates told the Tribune. “... His name is spelled right. There’s something to this. The city has a legacy, a culture, of putting black women in the position where life is harder, where they have to be silenced, to take the backseat, and this is an element of it.”

Meanwhile, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot alongside Chicago Public Schools CEO Janice Jackson released a statement on Friday afternoon, saying their counterproposals regarding classroom sizes and school staffing demonstrate that they are “working to the core issues that CTU has said are central to reaching an agreement — in writing.”

“We are encouraged that today’s negotiations were productive and yielded real movement on a number of key issues,” their joint statement read.

But just hours before the release of their statement, the mayor had publicly stated that the school district’s offer would not include any more financial backing.

“The fact is there is no more money,” Lightfoot said tersely. “Period.”

During a break in negotiations on Thursday, union officials led a massive rally in downtown Chicago, with a public relations battle between the two sides ignited in the process.

Contract discussions paused again on Friday after the union held yet another protest, which drew huge crowds of teachers and Chicago public school staff members in front of City Hall, union Vice President Davis Gates remained at the negotiating table, according to the Chicago Tribune, CTU President James Sharkey announced that bargaining efforts “have been positive” thus far, but admitted that they are “not there yet” regarding a suitable contract agreement.

Negotiators on behalf of the city urged union leaders to consider starting 10-hour daily negotiating sessions after expressing concerns that the strike could extend into next week.

Mayor Lightfoot has since said “the ball is very much in their court… we didn’t leave the table,” while claiming the two sides could reach a deal “in a matter of days.”

Union official Stacey Davis Gates didn’t share the mayor’s optimism, however, and placed the blame of the teachers strike squarely on Lightfoot’s shoulders.

"The mayor is in control of every single resource in this city,” Davis Gates said. “The fact that we can’t conclude (a contract deal) is about her refusal to do so.... This is a strong mayor city. She controls transportation, she controls public safety, she controls housing, she controls economic development, she controls public education. Certainly a mayor who has that much control can figure out how to land a contract that improves the lives of students in Chicago Public Schools. The urgency must lie in their ability to put those things together.”

Union leaders had initially set out their framework for a contract back in January. Contract talks are expected to resume again on Saturday.