Mayor Lori Lightfoot was accused Friday of provoking a strike by Chicago Public School teachers — just as Rahm Emanuel did — by reneging on her campaign promises to rebuild neighborhood schools and deliver an elected school board.
Chicago Teachers Union President Jesse Sharkey and CTU Vice-President Stacy Davis Gates said the dramatic difference between what Lightfoot promised and what she has delivered is leaving teachers virtually no alternative but to walk off the job.
The CTU has proposed a three-year, $3 billion contract to rebuild what Sharkey calls a “bare-bones school district bled dry” as the system teetered on the brink of .
The union also demands: 55 additional “community schools,” at a cost of $500,000 apiece; hundreds of millions of dollars for affordable housing; a moratorium on charter schools; and an iron-clad guarantee there will be no school closings over the life of the contract.
Lightfoot’s education platform sounded like a cut-and-paste of CTU proposals, Davis Gates said. But while the mayor has made a five-year, $300 million offer that would give teachers a 14% pay raise over five years, it ignores union demands for librarians and nurses at every school, more special education and bilingual support, smaller classes and a counselor for every 250 students.
To say the two sides are far apart would be a gross understatement.
Davis Gates pointed to Lightfoot’s recent declaration that the $95 million police and fire training academy in West Garfield Park needs to be made bigger, better and more expensive.
“If she’s serious about breaking the school-to-prison pipeline, as she campaigned on, then put that on the back-burner and make sure we have more school social workers and school counselors in our school communities,” she told the Chicago Sun-Times.
“This has always been about choice, priority and political will. The candidate that people in this city voted for said that she agreed with them that our schools were a priority and we had to resource them. The mayor is saying something completely different.”
Sharkey said the chances of a strike that would be Chicago’s second in seven years “doubled” this week, when the city’s chief labor negotiator, Jim Franczek, declared the mayor had no intention of addressing the union’s staffing demands at the bargaining table.
“They started talking about, ‘Not only have we not given you [a response], but we’re not going to. And we intend to deal with this in a different venue.’ That’s fighting words, as far as we’re concerned. And our members will see that the same way,” Sharkey said.
Lightfoot dismissed the tough talk as routine “saber-rattling” to stir up the rank and .
The mayor has not forgotten the CTU was among vanquished mayoral challenger Toni Preckwinkle staunchest and most powerful supporters. But she said she is determined to avoid another teachers’ strike.
“We want to reach a deal that is fair to teachers, that is fair to support personnel. And my primary instruction to the negotiators is, ‘Let’s do everything that we can to a safe and nurturing environment for our kids,’” Lightfoot said.
“The public school system … is a critical, critical factor in making sure that we are providing support and safety to our young people. So I’m gonna do everything I can to move the process along expeditiously. ... There’s no reason why … we can’t reach a deal well in advance of the time that school starts.”
Emanuel famously used profanity in an early confrontation with former CTU President Karen Lewis, infuriated her members by cancelling a previously-negotiated 4% pay raise for teachers, then added insult to injury by convincing the Illinois General Assembly to raise the strike-vote threshold to 75%.
Chicago teachers were so incensed, they blew past that benchmark easily, with 90% voting to strike in 2012. They remained on the picket lines for seven days and got the better of the mayor when the strike was finally settled.
On Friday, Lightfoot bristled at the suggestion that she is provoking another strike by reneging on her promises.
“I know they say that. But listen to my words … I know there’s a lot of rhetoric, and I get that that is helpful for organizing. But listen to what I am saying,” Lightfoot said.
“What I have just said and the commitment that I have made is making sure that we are fair to our teachers, that we provide them with a good compensation, that we support our support personnel. But the primary responsibility of all of us should be our children. Period. stop. No buts.”