Teachers in Chicago, the nation’s third-largest school district, narrowly avoided a strike Monday night. Minutes before the midnight strike deadline, the Chicago Teachers Union came to a tentative contract agreement with the city’s education board.
Chicago teachers have been working without a contract since June 2015, when the previous pact expired. Negotiations stalled for months over teacher pay, pension contributions and classroom resources, according to The Associated Press. Some of the city’s 20,000 unionized teachers voted last month to authorize a strike after more than a year of negotiations with Chicago Board of Education failed to produce a new contract. Union delegates set an Oct. 11 strike date if talks continued to falter.
However, the school board made a last-ditch proposal late Monday that “does look significantly better” than previous offers, said union president Karen Lewis, according to the Chicago Tribune.
The tentative agreement is not “a final contract,” says a statement from the union. “Every active member of the Chicago Teachers Union will have an opportunity to review and vote on the agreement before a contract is ratified.” That process could take several weeks, CBS reports.
The education board, which Mayor Rahm Emanuel appointed, initially wanted teachers to make larger contributions to their own pension funds and health insurance in exchange for a pay raise. For months, teachers rejected the givebacks and said they wanted the city to give surplus tax money to schools.
Under the tentative agreement, the district would continue to contribute to pension funds for veteran teachers. However, new teachers will receive pay raises in lieu of the pension help, according to CNN.
“What I will tell you is that it wasn’t easy, as you all know,” said Lewis during a press conference Monday night. “Clearly, we had some issues and there’s some things we’re going to still be working on. But what we found is that what we ended up with is something that’s good for kids, is good for clinicians, is good for paraprofessionals, for teachers, for the community and we’re very pleased that we were able to come to this tentative agreement.”
The mayor said all sides “came together to work together with a common purpose” in the end.
“The teachers’ hard work will be respected in this contract, and appropriately rewarded,” said Emanuel, per the Chicago Tribune. “Chicago Public Schools’ finances will be stronger and on firmer ground because of this agreement.”
Teachers were instructed to show up and protest outside of schools Tuesday morning if an agreement wasn’t reached. Activist and Chicago Public School student Asean Johnson told The Huffington Post Monday that he would support his teachers on the picket lines if they had to strike.
“We’re not getting the funding we need. There’s too may budget cuts, too many teachers getting laid off. I know a few people who said they had to leave the city because of Chicago Public Schools and that shouldn’t happen,” the 13-year-old student said Monday. “I love my teachers ... They actually help us out if we need help, they’re the teachers you want to have in your school. They come and check on you just to see how you’re doing. If you’re having a bad day they’ll talk to you about it. That’s the type of teachers they are.”
The school district in recent years has been plagued with mismanagement and financial difficulties. In 2015, former schools CEO Barbara Byrd Bennett pleaded guilty in an elaborate bribery arrangement. In August, the district laid off more than 1,000 staff members. Had an agreement not been reached, it would have been the second major strike for CTU since 2012.