Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) flew into rainy Chicago on Tuesday morning to join the city’s teachers and support staff in their sixth day of striking for a better union contract deal with the city and Chicago Public Schools.
Warren, who is running for president in the 2020 election, joined the Chicago Teachers Union and Service Employees International Union Local 73 on the picket line at DePriest Elementary School on the West Side to voice her support for unions and public school educators.
“I’m here to stand with Chicago teachers. I’m here to stand with Chicago nurses. I’m here to stand with Chicago’s librarians,” Warren told the cheering crowd outside the school. Joining her were CTU President Jesse Sharkey and American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten.
CTU and SEIU were in their sixth day of striking and fourth day of no classes on Tuesday as the unions continued negotiating with Mayor Lori Lightfoot and CPS on issues like smaller class sizes; more nurses, social workers and special education teachers; affordable housing; and better pay. There has been no academic instruction in the schools since Oct. 17, but buildings have stayed open to provide meals and safe places for children who need them.
CPS is the third-largest school district in the nation, with 25,000 teachers serving more than 300,000 students. The size of the district has given the strike nationwide significance as the relatively new mayor clashes with Chicago’s public school teachers.
“I’m here because the eyes of this nation are upon you,” Warren said. “They have turned to Chicago for you to lead the way, for you to show how the power of standing together is the power of making real change in this country.”
In her campaign, Warren has called public education an issue that’s personal. The senator was a special education teacher at a public elementary school in New Jersey when she was in her 20s, but she said she left after being discriminated against for being pregnant.
“A long time ago, I stood where you stand. I was there on the frontlines with the children,” the senator said. “I remember what it was like to see a child’s eyes light up. I remember what it was like to be one of the most important people in a child’s life.”
Warren’s visit comes just one day after the presidential candidate unveiled her sweeping education plan to tackle segregation, high-stakes testing and for-profit charters for kindergarten through 12th grade. At the center of her plan is fighting continued segregation in the education system, a battle that schools in Chicago’s South and West Sides have historically dealt with.
“I believe in public education, and I believe it is time in America to make a new investment in public education,” she said. “And I got a plan for that.”
In addition to supporting public schools, Warren said she was also in Chicago to stress the importance of unions and worker rights.
“Because the unions are how we have a voice. The unions are how we have power. The unions are how we make sure that the needs of every one of our children are heard loud and clear,” she said.
Warren’s campaign did not immediately respond to HuffPost’s questions on whether she had spoken to Lightfoot about the strike and whether standing with the unions has affected her relationship, as a Democratic presidential candidate, with a major city’s mayor.
Lightfoot downplayed Warren’s alliance with the unions at a news conference Tuesday morning.
“She has her right to come in. I would expect all Democratic candidates for the presidency to support workers. That’s who we are as a party,” the mayor said. “But at the end of the day, what’s going to get it done is what happens at the bargaining table.”
On Monday, Lightfoot and school district CEO Janice Jackson wrote a letter to Sharkey urging the union to end the strike and go back to work while negotiations continue, and she said at a news conference that teachers are asking for too much money. Sharkey, who earlier hoped negotiations could wrap up by the end of the week, told reporters Monday night that the mayor’s remarks “dashed my hopes” on the walkout ending soon.
Chicago Public Schools announced that the union did not end its strike as of 4 p.m. Tuesday, leading to the walkout’s continuation Wednesday and students’ fifth day out of class. The teachers union is calling for a national day of action on Thursday, asking teachers nationwide to show support for Chicago’s teachers.
“The nation turns to you to show how people who fight from the heart, people who are told: ‘Quit now, give up,’” Warren told strikers, “[they] don’t give up. They stay in the fight for what they believe, and they change the course of American history.”
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