The Chicago Teachers Union reached a tentative deal with the city’s mayor on Thursday to end an 11-day strike in the nation’s third-largest school district.
The union’s 700-member governing body voted to approve the terms set with Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, telling 25,000 teachers and more than 300,000 students to return to the classrooms Friday morning amid a prolonged negotiation period.
The five-year deal hinged on Lightfoot agreeing to demands that would allow schools to make up the 11 missed days. The mayor had consistently refused to compromise on the makeup days, but on Thursday said Chicago Public Schools can make up five of the missed days at the end of the year.
“This has been a hard and difficult journey,” Lightfoot said at a press conference Thursday alongside CPS CEO Janice Jackson. “I want to thank the House of Delegates for ratifying this historic contract for CTU.”
That compromise means striking teachers will only be paid for five of the days spent on the picket lines, and will be out six days of pay. CTU Vice President Stacy Davis Gates told reporters Thursday that while the contract will make the school district a better place for students, Lightfoot “has taken out her anger on our members” by only giving teachers five days’ pay in a return-to-work agreement.
“We want a partner who will appreciate that and respect that” teachers are giving up six days of pay for the contract agreement, Davis Gates said. “We are teachers. It is about Black and brown children in the city of Chicago.”
Before Lightfoot’s announcement, CTU President Jesse Sharkey said the mayor was making it clear that she was more concerned about politics than actually putting children back in school.
“Our members are tired, frustrated and miss their students … we want to return to the classroom,” Sharkey said in a statement.
Lightfoot’s announcement came after Sharkey met with the mayor to discuss the deal. The union president did not appear with her at the press conference Thursday, explaining to reporters that it’s “not a day for photo ops or victory laps.”
The mayor was initially opposed to CTU’s return-to-work terms, even after the union overwhelmingly voted to agree to the specifics of the deal late Wednesday.
“I’ve learned a lot,” she said at her press conference Thursday. “I think I need a moment to reflect. I’m grateful it’s over. It’s time to move on and focus on our kids.”
The last day on the Chicago public school system calendar was initially set as June 16. It will now be moved to June 30.
CTU had been without a contract since July 1. The union had demanded a wage increase but also more funding for overcrowded classrooms and the hiring of social workers, school nurses and about 1,000 teaching assistants.
The changes add about $500 million a year to the union’s previous $2.6 billion contract.
Classes had been canceled for hundreds of thousands of students every day since the strike began on Oct. 17. The school buildings remained open throughout the strike to provide hot meals and a safe place for students.
“This deal will move us closer to ensuring that our most vulnerable students receive the instruction, resources and wraparound services they need to thrive,” Sharkey said. “No educator wants to leave their classroom, but our [strike] was the only option we had to enshrine, ensure and enforce real change for our students and school communities.”
Details of the tentative agreement include a fast-track process for grievances related to contract disputes; enforceable staffing increases in nursing and social work; a plan to reduce K-12 class sizes; better resources for homeless students; and more protection for both special education teachers and school clerk assistants. Education news nonprofit Chalkbeat Chicago first obtained a copy of the deal Wednesday.
All CTU members still have to vote on the agreement before it gets ratified. After the contract is finalized, the union plans to work with state legislators and Gov. J.B. Pritzker (D) to make sure students, families and school faculty get an elected representative school board instead of one appointed by the mayor.
“The Governor has long expressed his support for an elected school board and changes to the collective bargaining process,” Pritzker’s office told WTTW Chicago. “He looks forward to reviewing the specifics when these bills reach his desk.”
A separate strike for the Chicago union representing school support staff also ended Wednesday after that union, SEIU Local 73, agreed to terms that included raises ranging from 17% to 40% over a five-year stretch. The strike continued after the bargain was struck in solidarity with the Chicago Teachers Union.