Chicago teachers contract negotiations: Classes canceled Friday as strike continues

Bargaining was positive, both sides said, but failed to reach a deal.

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On Thursday morning, Chicago’s powerful, 25,000-strong teachers union walked off the job. That means no classes for 300,000 students for as many days as it takes to reach a contract agreement with the teachers and other support staff.

Based on the latest developments, here’s our take on how things look Thursday regarding the Chicago Teachers Union strike.

Back at the table Thursday afternoon

Chicago teachers will continue their strike Friday and all classes will be canceled, officials said Thursday evening.

A robocall to parents announced the cancelation but said schools will remain open for students who need a place to go.

The announcement came as bargaining continued into the evening Thursday at Malcolm X College on the Near West Side after a downtown rally and march by thousands of union members.

First bargaining session of the day wraps up

Talks resumed Thursday between the city and the teachers union at Malcolm X College on the Near West Side. The neutral site was a departure from the past few weeks when meetings alternated between CPS and CTU turf.

The bargaining session went on longer than expected and wrapped up around 1 p.m., just in time for CTU leaders to make it downtown for the union’s rally in front of CPS headquarters.

After negotiations went on break, union president Jesse Sharkey stopped to speak to reporters. He said talks were positive and the school district made a written proposal on class size that came close to the framework the union discussed over the weekend.

Still, Sharkey said it was “highly unlikely” the two sides would agree on all issues and reach a deal by the end of the day.

The bargaining teams plan to reconvene at the table later in the afternoon after the union’s rally and march, but they might not go too late because Sharkey is set to appear on the Chicago Tonight news talk show in the evening.

Leaders of SEIU Local 73, which represents 7,500 support staff in the schools, said their strike would continue Friday.

Chicago Teachers Union Vice President Stacy Davis Gates (center), other union officials and their supporters lead thousands of striking union members on a march through the Loop, Thursday afternoon, Oct. 17, 2019.

Chicago Teachers Union Vice President Stacy Davis Gates (center), other union officials and their supporters lead thousands of striking union members on a march through the Loop, Thursday afternoon, Oct. 17, 2019.

Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

School likely canceled Friday, too

Though there was no official word yet, all CPS classes are expected to be called off for Friday.

A district spokesman said that, as of Thursday afternoon, there would be no school unless something changes in bargaining.

“Until we get notification from the CTU that they’re intending to come back to the classroom, school is canceled for the duration,” Mayor Lori Lightfoot told reporters Thursday morning.

CPS plans to update parents later Thursday as soon when a final decision is made.

Thursday classes canceled

Picketing outside schools began early Thursday morning at 6:30 a.m.

Thousands of teachers marched and chanted outside their schools across the city, and union leaders Jesse Sharkey and Stacy Davis Gates joined a couple spots.

With no agreement in sight, Lightfoot and CPS CEO Janice Jackson were not yet expected to join negotiations Thursday. Instead, the duo made a couple morning stops at community centers to visit kids who were there for the day, and the mayor read a group of kids a children’s book.

Wednesday morning, Lightfoot and Jackson took the unusual step of preemptively canceling classes Thursday morning for all CPS students.

They acted in response to CTU President Jesse Sharkey’s announcement Tuesday night that he’d urge the union’s delegates to authorize a strike Thursday because the two sides were so far apart in contract talks.

CPS confirmed the cancellation late Wednesday afternoon, emailing parents and sending out robocalls, as they had done Tuesday, when Jackson warned parents of a possible work stoppage.

Jackson also announced free CTA rides for students until classes resume.

CPS plans to keep school buildings open, staffing them with non-union employees such as principals and other administrators but without teachers and most other support staff, who are members of SEIU Local 73.

Jackson said contract nurses will be made available at schools for children who need them.

Libraries and some after-school programs can help with kids, too, and Chicago’s parks are an option now that their staffers reached a deal Wednesday on a contract with the city.

At City Hall, Lightfoot told reporters she thinks the concessions CPS made should have been enough to avert a strike. The mayor said she has offered a 16% pay raise and worked to meet the union’s key concerns, even agreeing, after months of holding out, to put in writing the union’s demands over class size and staffing of nurses, librarians and social workers.

Each side accused the other Wednesday of “moving the goal post” on getting a contract deal done — a change in tone from Tuesday, when the accusation was of “stalling.”

Union vote Wednesday night

The city and teachers union bargained for only a few hours Wednesday, then broke for the day.

After school let out Wednesday, the CTU’s bargaining team convened the union’s house of delegates — the elected body of hundreds of school-level representatives, who are authorized to approve or reject any proposed contract.

Earlier in the week, it appeared the CTU’s leaders set the delegates meeting to ratify a potential deal as late as possible. But the delegates instead blessed the walkout with an overwhelming vote. Then they carried strike signs out of CTU headquarters to carry on picket lines outside their schools.

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