Leaders from Chicago Public Schools and the Chicago Teachers Union reached several tentative agreements Saturday in ongoing negotiations to reopen schools, making progress at the bargaining table less than 24 hours after Mayor Lori Lightfoot said the “CTU leadership has failed and left us with a big bag of nothing.”
A few large points of contention remain, but the sides started putting pen to paper the day after talks appeared on the verge of derailing, potentially signaling a deal could still be finalized this weekend.
The district’s tentative agreements with the union were on health and safety protocols, ventilation, a contact tracing program and safety committees at each school that would monitor problems. Those were the verbal agreements the mayor lambasted CTU leadership for not putting in writing and signing Friday night.
The sides are still negotiating over larger disagreements, such as a health metric to determine school closures, teacher vaccinations, a broader testing program for staff and students and work-from-home accommodations. Though those issues have been obstacles to reaching a deal, talks were significantly progressing Saturday, sources said.
The two sides — which privately still express hope for a deal this weekend — have also discussed phasing in grades over the next two weeks, potentially starting with kindergarten through fifth. It wasn’t clear if the mayor would approve that plan given her demand Friday night for hundreds of elementary and middle schools to open their doors to about 65,000 students and 15,000 teachers Monday.
The progress marked “an important step toward reaching an overarching agreement,” Lightfoot and schools chief Janice Jackson said in a statement, adding “there is still significant work that needs to be done on the remaining several open issues.
“We must make additional, meaningful progress today and tomorrow as time is running out,” they said.
CTU President Jesse Sharkey wrote in an email to members that “the team at the table for CPS is working on reaching an agreement.”
“They also, however, have to manage the mayor, which we understand is a concern based on last night’s spectacle,” Sharkey said.
The mayor’s Friday night news conference in which she ordered schools to reopen Monday represented an ultimatum to the CTU that set the stage for the city’s second teachers strike in 15 months. The union has said its members won’t return to in-person work without an agreement.
“Another day has passed, and the CTU has not agreed to anything,” Lightfoot said, appearing her angriest at the union since the 2019 strike. “The CTU leadership has failed and left us with a big bag of nothing.
“Those teachers need to be there to greet their students and teach them in-person,” she continued. “If the CTU continues not to show up and fails to work toward an agreement in good faith, then we will have no choice but to take further action. Now, let me be clear, none of us want to go there. And we shouldn’t have to.”
The tone of the mayor’s comments surprised members of the union leadership and even some CPS insiders who expected her to announce progress at the bargaining table and continued talks over the weekend.
This is a developing story. Check back for updates.