New proposals on the table, but Chicago teachers strike enters Day 2

“We’ve made some movement, but it’s still not enough,” said Chicago Teachers Union bargaining team member Lori Torres.

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Thousands of striking Chicago Teachers Union members and their supporters march through the Loop, Thursday afternoon, Oct. 17, 2019.

Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

Chicago teachers will forge ahead with day two of their strike after spending Thursday picketing outside schools, rallying and marching through downtown streets and, for a couple dozen, continuing to work toward a deal with city and schools officials.

Both sides said small steps were taken as negotiations continued through Thursday evening and included an appearance by the Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr. But a deal remained elusive as parents of about 300,000 students learned they would again need to find alternative child care for their children.

At schools around the city, teachers in red sweaters and hats showed up before dawn to picket with purple-dressed colleagues from Service Employees International Union Local 73, which represents school support staff workers who are also on strike.

The educators danced and chanted but still said they hoped the walkout would end sooner rather than later. Passing cars honked in support, local businesses allowed teachers to use restrooms and students showed up in solidarity — and with doughnuts and coffee.

Early start

At Sawyer Elementary in Gage Park, teachers gathered around 6 a.m. but didn’t start chanting too early. “We wanted to give the kids and their parents some time to sleep,” said Carmen Vazquez, a seventh-eighth grade special education teacher.

Over at Lane Tech College Prep, spirits were high as music teachers Javier Payano and Miles Comiskey jammed on guitar and drums.

Dujanne Evans, a sixth grade teacher at Cather Elementary, said she was out striking for the needs of nurses and social workers in her schools. “I have to stock up on medical supplies because we don’t have a nurse every day,” Evans said. “I have to pay for band-aids and peroxide if they cut themselves, but a nurse is the one who is properly trained to do that.”

In the afternoon, thousands convened at the downtown headquarters of the Chicago Public Schools for a massive rally that shut down traffic in the Loop. The crowd marched to City Hall, where their chants were heard inside the building.

Led by union president and vice president Jesse Sharkey and Stacy Davis Gates, teachers chanted, “If we don’t get it, shut it down.”

“I want to remind you that there needs to be a nurse, and a social worker and a counselor at every single school in the city,” Davis Gates said to cheers. “Until it’s done, we have picket signs in front of the schools.”

Those in attendance included Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, and City Treasurer Melissa Conyears-Ervin, wife of Ald. Jason Ervin (28th). Both women and several aldermen joined the rally after picketing with teachers in the morning.

Sides trade barbs

Despite the hoopla around the city, the scene outside Malcolm X College on the Near West Side — the neutral site where the city and union began meeting Thursday — was relatively quiet with a line of TV news trucks stationed outside all day.

The bargaining teams came together in the morning and met up until a half hour before the downtown rally. They reconvened later in the afternoon but wrapped up by 6 p.m., when Sharkey and Davis Gates left to go to a TV appearance.

The city’s team was peeved that the duo didn’t stay at negotiations, sources said. The union’s bargaining team, meanwhile, said it was willing to keep talks going without Sharkey and Davis Gates, and that the other side of the table refused.

While both sides accused the other of lacking a sense of urgency, they agreed some progress was made at the table.

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The Rev. Jesse Jackson outside CPS-CTU bargaining Thursday

Matthew Hendrickson/Sun-Times

Rev. Jackson, who arrived about an hour before negotiations ended, said the city and union had started “talking with each other, not at each other.”

“Each side has some validity,” Jackson said, pointing to the city’s dire finances and the teachers’ demands for more resources. “There must be some common ground.”

New offer

At the table, the school district proposed a new written offer on class size, one of the CTU’s key concerns. But it didn’t include the harder caps that the union wanted, and its proposal to spend $9 million to ensure class size limits are not exceeded was not enough, union officials said.

The CTU put forward a new framework for staffing demands that includes a minimum number of nurses, librarians, social workers and counselors that the district would need to hire. The union said it’s willing to phase in those positions over the term of the deal by starting at schools with high numbers of low-income students, but it said it received no substantive response.

And on affordable housing, the two sides discussed the creation of a new position that would deal solely with helping students who are homeless. Right now, a mixture of teachers, social workers and counselors help children manage those struggles. The city’s position is that only schools with 90 or more homeless students would receive that worker. The union said there were only 12 schools citywide that would meet that criteria.

Right before the two sides split for the night, the city said it had a new proposal on meeting special education needs but would wait until the morning to present it since Sharkey and Davis Gates had left.

“We’ve made some movement, but it’s still not enough,” said union bargaining team member Lori Torres.

When it became clear a deal wouldn’t be reached by the end of the night, CPS officials decided to go ahead with cancelling class for the second consecutive day. A robocall to parents announced there would be no school but said buildings would remain open for students who need a place to go.

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

The mayor and CPS CEO Janice Jackson spent their morning visiting kids and reading children’s books to students at two contingency sites that partnered with the district to take kids for the day.

Gabrielle Odom, 12, with her mother, Erin Matthews, a social worker at two CPS schools.

Gabrielle Odom, 12, with her mother, Erin Matthews, a social worker at two CPS schools.

Matthew Hendrickson/Sun-Times

‘This is so many people’

Other students spent the day with their CPS-teacher parents who brought their kids to the day’s events.

At the downtown rally, 12-year-old Gabrielle Odom said she was amazed by the size of the crowd, which was estimated to be in the thousands.

“I was expecting it to be smaller. A few people holding signs. This is so many people,” Gabrielle said.

Her mother, Erin Matthews, a CPS social worker, and said she often goes home feeling guilty that she wasn’t able to provide enough support to the kids she wants to help. She said she felt a duty as a parent to bring her daughter and show her that by coming together, teachers can demand change.

“So many kids have trauma and they really need someone to listen to them,” Matthews said. “If they don’t get help from us, they don’t get help.”

Matthews said she can only spend two days a week at the two schools she works at. She hopes that if CPS hires more social workers, she’ll be assigned to a single school and work full-time there.

Gabrielle said she was proud of her mother.

“She’s part of this whole movement that will help me and will help other people,” she said.

Contributing: Matthew Hendrickson, Mitch Dudek, Fran Spielman, Manny Ramos, Carlos Ballesteros, Stefano Esposito

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