Chicago Teachers Union and city negotiators returned to the bargaining table Sunday after both sides noted progress in Saturday’s talks. Still, the prospect of students returning to classes Monday seemed unlikely with Mayor Lori Lightfoot saying she’d be “surprised” if a deal can be hammered out in time for classes to resume Monday.
In an email to CTU membership sent late Saturday, CTU President Jesse Sharkey told teachers: “Mayor Lightfoot has already canceled classes for Monday. We think that’s a bit premature, but it would take a lot of fast movement tomorrow to reach a tentative agreement in time for Monday.”
After negotiations Saturday night, Sharkey said: “I really do believe that if there’s will and resources we can get a fast agreement here, but it requires those two things.” He added “things would need to be pretty dramatic, I guess, to meet that, but I don’t want to foreclose that as a possibility.”
Saturday, Mayor Lori Lightfoot visited a West Side youth development group’s basketball program — and students took a break from shooting hoops to ask when their schools will reopen.
“I think if we really work hard at it, we could get a deal done this weekend,” Lightfoot told them.
But speaking to reporters afterward, the mayor said she would be “very surprised if classes are going to be open on Monday.”
“We remain hopeful that we will continue to see some progress, even if it’s incremental, but we’ve got to be at the table in order to get a deal done,” Lightfoot said. “Every single day [students] are not in school is a problem.”
CTU Vice President Stacy Davis Gates said bargaining had resulted in movement on the key issues for the union, including “tentative agreements on eight different items.” Two issues she said progress were made on were the hiring and retention of teachers of color and a moratorium on opening new charter schools.
“Everything is moving. We’re having substantive discussions. There’s nothing that we’re locked away from at this point,” Davis Gates said. “We spent a lot of time hearing ‘no’ from CPS, months [of] hearing no from them. We’re not hearing ‘no’ anymore.
“We’re spending a lot of time reading what they’ve offered and evaluating its impact on our school communities,” she said.
However, Sharkey said enforcement of the provisions in any agreement was still a sticking point at the bargaining table.
“A provision where there’s a promise to hire, but there’s no mechanism for what happens if that promise isn’t kept, that’s not so good for us,” Sharkey said. “We have bitter experience with what happens if we can’t actually enforce the stuff that we have.”
In a statement Saturday night, Lightfoot said the city was still waiting to receive “full, written counteroffers” from the union on class size and staffing, which she said the union has identified as essential to an agreement. Lightfoot called for the negotiations to move faster and said the city’s team has “has been turning around thoughtful counteroffers at a rapid pace.”
“We are hopeful that CTU will meet that pace tomorrow so we can bring this process to a fair and responsible end,” Lightfoot wrote.
Teachers walked off the job Thursday, wiping out two days of classes, sports and other activities for 300,000 Chicago Public Schools students.
The ongoing talks followed a rally in the morning by teachers and support staffers clad in red and purple at Douglas Park, where they were joined by unionized health care staff from across the street at Mount Sinai Hospital. The Mount Sinai workers promised to help keep pressure on the city to negotiate what they say will be a “fair contract” for students and school workers across Chicago.
“We believe that employers in Chicago have a moral responsibility to provide good jobs to every worker and to support healthy, vibrant neighborhoods everywhere — not just on the North Side,” said Gregory Kelley, president of SEIU Healthcare. “That’s why we’re standing in solidarity to say it’s time to respect all Chicagoans and invest in all of our kids, healthcare workers and neighborhoods to close the racial gap in this city.”
Jennifer Eggener, who has taught at Collins Academy High School in Douglas Park for the past 11 years, said that schools need more resources to help students deal with trauma.
“I’ve visited too many students who are in the hospital due to gun violence. I’ve attended way too many students’ funerals,” Eggener said. “My heart can’t take it anymore.”
Dennis Kosuth, a CPS nurse, said he works at three schools — down from the six he managed last year. Still, he said it’s “impossible” to manage the case load.
“What we have now is not a safe situation for our students, and that’s what we’re fighting for,” Kosuth said.
A handful of elected officials showed up to support CTU and other workers throughout the city. Chicago City Treasurer Melissa Conyears-Ervin, who called herself a “product of Chicago Public Schools,” said teachers were striking for the students’ best interests.
“We demand that our children be treated the same as anyone else [and] receive a fair and equitable education,” Conyears-Ervin said.
During the rally, union leaders Sharkey and Davis Gates were attending part of a weekend Illinois Federation of Teachers convention in Rosemont. They were there to support former CTU president Karen Lewis, who retired last year due to health issues, as she received an honor from the federation.