Teachers union says Lightfoot pulls offer of 12 weeks of parental leave for CPS employees

The mayor last year gave 12 weeks of paid parental leave to all 32,000 city employees. Chicago Teachers Union President Stacy Davis Gates says the same offer was made to CPS teachers and staff, something the mayor’s office denies.

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CTU Vice President Stacy Davis Gates speaks at a press conference with named plaintiffs in CTU civil rights lawsuit on Monday, February 7, 2022.

Stacy Davis Gates of the Chicago Teachers Union, shown at a February news conference. Davis Gates, now the union’s president, has accused the mayor of breaking a promise made to the teachers union over expanding parental leave.

Brian Rich/Sun-Times file photo

The Chicago Teachers Union is accusing Mayor Lori Lightfoot of stepping in to rescind a promise by her hand-picked Chicago Public Schools leadership to give rank-and-file teachers and school support staff the same 12 weeks of paid parental leave already provided to all other 32,000 city employees.

It’s a new chapter in the long, bitter battle between the mayor and the CTU, which is backing one of its own organizers against Lightfoot in the mayoral election. The two sides have spent the last four years at loggerheads, including an 11-day strike in 2019 and two job actions during the coronavirus pandemic.

Since the latest fracas last January, and until this week, both CPS and CTU leaders had said they felt the relationship between the district and union had become more collaborative.

But CTU President Stacy Davis Gates unloaded on Lightfoot in a letter Thursday, accusing the mayor of attempting to break up that goodwill and urging her to restore the parental leave offer.

A petition emailed to members and circulated on social media urged rank-and-file teachers and support staff to sign to “express our disappointment and outrage” at the apparent reversal.

In a statement, Lightfoot’s office denied there was any reversal: “To be clear, the Mayor’s Office, which includes the Mayor, has not been engaged with CPS specifically with respect to their parental leave policy.”

That statement did say that the Lightfoot administration “has implemented one of the most progressive municipal parental leave policies in the country that applies to tens of thousands of employees. While sister agencies are not subject to our parental leave policy, she has encouraged them to consider the same action.”

CPS spokeswoman Mary Fergus issued a statement saying the district “is taking the necessary time to review our policies to determine how to best support our team members who are new parents.”

CPS “remains committed to exploring an updated parental leave policy,” Fergus said. “Allegations that anyone outside of CPS has influenced the ongoing discussion are untrue and attempt to diminish the integrity of all parties involved in developing a strong policy.”

Mayor Lori Lightfoot speaks to reporters during a press conference at City Hall, updating reporters on the current situation with the Chicago Teachers Union and their vote to go too remote learning, Tuesday, Jan. 4, 2022.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot speaks to reporters during a press conference at City Hall in January 2022, during a battle with the Chicago Teachers Union over remote learning. In the background (left) is Chicago Public Schools CEO Pedro Martinez.

Tyler Pasciak LaRiviere/Sun-Times

The CTU’s collective bargaining agreement guarantees members one to two weeks of paid leave plus short-term disability for those who are eligible. The new, 12-week policy would be adopted by the Board of Education but not added to the CTU contract, though the union could negotiate to add those terms to its contract after the current pact expires in 2024.

Davis Gates’ letter was deeply emotional, appealing to Lightfoot “as mother, woman and educator” about an issue “close to my heart and the hearts of thousands of women” who she said comprise 80% of CPS educators.  

“We plan our pregnancies around our school calendars. We come to work sick because we cannot afford to squander sick days on being sick because we need them for parental leave,” Davis Gates wrote.

Davis Gates said the unfairness falls hardest on newer teachers with the fewest accumulated sick days. Many rush back to their classrooms long before they are “physically or emotionally ready,” she wrote, because they “cannot afford to be without their paychecks and health insurance.”

The union president described the difference between the March birth of her first child and the June birth of one of her daughters. Unlike the March delivery, giving birth in June allowed her to “heal properly from a cesarean section” and “bond” with the new baby, because it coincided with the summer break.

Davis Gates said the apparent about-face by the mayor was particularly disappointing after “we made significant progress with your team at CPS … without headlines or mobilizations or confrontation.”

The renewed conflict between Lightfoot and her biggest adversary comes at a time when the mayoral campaign is shifting into high-gear.

Early on, Lightfoot predicted the CTU would run a candidate against her in 2023 — and it has. The CTU endorsed union organizer Brandon Johnson, a Cook County commissioner.

Since then, the CTU has donated more than $350,000 to Johnson’s campaign while other teachers unions — at the federal, state and county levels — have contributed nearly $900,000 more.

Cook County Commissioner Brandon Johnson, now a mayoral challenger, is shown on Sept. 30, 2022 outside Chicago Teachers Union headquarters after the street there was renamed Honorary Karen Lewis CTU Way for the late CTU president.

Cook County Commissioner Brandon Johnson, now a mayoral challenger, is shown in September outside Chicago Teachers Union headquarters after the street there was renamed Honorary Karen Lewis CTU Way for the late CTU president. The current president, Stacy Davis Gates, is at far left. Her union has contributed about $350,000 to Johnson’s mayoral campaign.

Tyler Pasciak LaRiviere/Sun-Times

On Thursday, Johnson called the apparent reversal just the latest in a string of Lightfoot’s broken promises.

“These are benefits that go to teachers, librarians, clerks, clinicians and other educators. Granting it to other city workers and ignoring families that serve this city within our public school system is disappointing, but it is clearly on brand for someone like her,” Johnson said.

“These are the families that serve other families. At the very least, the mayor of Chicago should be committed to economic justice to make sure that we’re not excluding people who need this type of health care support.”


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