Still no deal as CPS, teachers union wrap up bargaining Friday

Both district and CTU officials said there was some progress at the negotiating table as 300,000 students remained out of school for a second day.

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Thousands of Chicago Teachers Union members and their supporters march through the Loop on day two of a Chicago Public Schools district-wide strike, Friday afternoon, Oct. 18, 2019.

Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

Picket. Rally. March. Negotiate. Rinse. Repeat.

The second day of Chicago’s first major teachers strike since 2012 went much like the first, with incremental progress at the bargaining table and displays of union power around the city.

In public, the city and union continued their PR war to try to win hearts and minds of parents and taxpayers. But at the table, the school district again made a new proposal on one of the Chicago Teachers Union’s key demands, and both sides called the day’s meetings positive and productive.

Despite the progress, the strike that has canceled classes, sports and other activities for 300,000 Chicago Public Schools students carries on into the weekend.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot and CPS CEO Janice Jackson said in a Friday evening statement that they’re “encouraged that today’s negotiations were productive and yielded real movement” on several important issues. They said their new proposal on staffing of nurses, social workers, librarians and counselors “would go above and beyond the unprecedented public commitments” they’ve already made.

Earlier in the evening, union leaders walked out of bargaining with a sense that negotiations were headed in the right direction.

“We still got a little bit to go, but we’re getting there,” said bargaining team member Kristy Brooks.

CTU President Jesse Sharkey said he felt “really uplifted” by teachers’ energy on picket lines around the city and at a downtown rally earlier in the day, the second in two days.

A sea of red- and purple-clad strikers with CTU and SEIU Local 73, which represents striking support staff, took to the streets after the rally and encircled City Hall, chanting and calling for a “fair contract.”

Progress Friday

At the bargaining table, the two sides discussed special education, bilingual support, students who are homeless and staffing of nurses, librarians, social workers and counselors.

A day after making a new proposal on class size, the city handed over a revised offer on staffing.

The offer includes specific numbers to fill most of the positions the CTU was looking for and cements the promises Lightfoot and Jackson made weeks ago in the school district’s budget.

On class size, the discussion has centered on a new committee that would examine cases of overcrowded classrooms and use a pot of money to find solutions that could differ based on the circumstances. Some situations could warrant a new teachers assistant or an extra teacher altogether. The committee could also choose to bring a certain classroom, in special circumstances, below the district’s cap.

The new proposal doesn’t set new, lower class size limits, however.

PR battle intensifies

The encouraging words Friday night were a far cry from the morning, when the city’s lead labor attorney accused CTU officers of not spending enough time at the table.

“URGENT MESSAGE RE: SCHEDULING,” began attorney Jim Franczek’s all-caps message to Sharkey and Stacy Davis Gates (whose first name he misspelled in the email). “Given the urgency of having over 300,000 students not receiving the quality education they deserve, we hereby respectfully request that we negotiate at least 10 hours per day beginning today and for each day thereafter, including this weekend, until a tentative agreement is reached.”

Click here to see a who’s-who of key figures in CTU contract negotiations.

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But that message from Franczek was also meant for another audience beyond union brass: the public. The battle for the city’s hearts and minds is in full swing, and will only intensify the longer the strike continues. Late Thursday, the CTU released radio ads, two in English and one in Spanish, furthering their efforts to get their message directly to the public.

As the inevitability of the strike became clear at the beginning of the week, the city and union began accusing each other of “stalling,”then of “moving the goal posts.”

During an interview with the Chicago Sun-Times on Friday, Lightfoot was asked whether the teachers strike now into its second day is beginning to have the look and feel of a long walkout.

“Well, I hope not. That’s part of the reason why we called for, from this point forward, a commitment on the part of the union to bargain at least 10 hours a day every day and that one of the principals — either Jesse Sharkey as president or Stacy Davis Gates as vice-president — be at the table for the duration,” the mayor said.

But referring to the mid-day rallies Thursday and Friday attended by union officials, Franczek wrote, “We cannot afford to have another three to four hour recess in negotiations while both of you are gone. It is vital to the success of these negotiations that one of you be present at all times.”

Heading out to the Friday afternoon rally, Sharkey contended that negotiations don’t have to stop without him and Davis Gates when bargaining team members more equipped to talk about certain issues, such as special education, are still there.But Sharkey ended up going to the rally and Davis Gates stayed at Malcolm X College, where the two sides are meeting.

“Stacy and I went out for a few hours in the middle of the day to address the other really important group whose voice counts in this matter: the membership of the CTU and the membership of the public,” Sharkey said.

Davis Gates questioned how their TV appearances, which city officials have also criticized, differed from the ones by the mayor and schools chief when they’re the four faces of negotiations.

“Janice gets to talk to y’all all day, the mayor gets to talk to y’all all day, and then they got a team up there” in bargaining, she said.

Still, Sharkey said bargaining will continue at an intense pace: “Nobody’s taking the weekend off.”

Sharkey and Davis Gates will be in suburban Rosemont until 1 p.m. Saturday attending part of a three-day Illinois Federation of Teachers convention. The pair is going to see former CTU President Karen Lewis, who retired after a brain cancer diagnosis, receive an honor from the IFT.

Saturday’s convention speakers also include Governor J.B. Pritkzer, U.S. Senator Dick Durbin, and International Federation of Teachers President Dan Montgomery.

“We’re not just trying to get a fast deal, we’re trying to get a deal that commits to having educational justice in Chicago,” Sharkey said.

But if talks stay at the same pace, they’ll likely end up carrying into next week, a source close to negotiations said — meaning students could miss even more school.

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