Chicago Teachers Strike For Treatment Like White Suburban Teachers
The Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) confirmed Wednesday night that its 25,000 teachers and other members will strike at 12:01 Thursday, October 17, 2019.
This action comes after months of negotiation between the CTU and the City of Chicago have failed to come to terms over mainly benefits, including class size, teachers’ professional aides, and teacher preparation time. Surprisingly, teachers’ pay is not one of the principal demands of the Union. This strike comes after seven years of relative peace between the CTU and the City. It is also the first major test of Chicago’s new “progressive” mayor, Lori Lightfoot.
During the 2012 seven-day strike, the City maintained some schools for half-day sessions. This time around, the Chicago Public School District (CPS) will keep all school facilities open during school hours. Principals and other non-union employees will be on hand to service any students who show up.
That includes serving breakfast and lunch; but all extra-curricular and after-school activities (including sports) and school buses will stop. Normally, the CPS services over 300,000 students every day — the third highest number in the nation
Janice Jackson is the CPS’ Chief Executive Officer. Earlier this week, she made the point that fully eighty percent Chicago’s public school students hail from “low income” families.
“We have parents who if they don’t go to work, they don’t get paid,” Jackson said. “So we need to make sure that there is a place for their children to go so that they can continue doing what they need to do to support their families.”
For her part, on Wednesday afternoon, Mayor Lightfoot announced that all classes are canceled as of this morning (Thursday). She said she hoped parents could put together alternative plans for their children.
The Mayor also said that she had a problem understanding why the CTU has continued to reject the City’s offers and counter-offers, including a 16% pay raise over five years. She wondered why the union objected to language in the latest proposed contract that speaks to “enforceable targets” as to class size and increased staffing levels, especially for nurses, librarians and social workers.
These positions, however, says the CTU, are treated more like “goals” and “objectives,” rather than as ironclad contractual obligations, and are therefore not worth the paper they are written on.
Mayor Lightfoot, perhaps unconsciously and certainly not deliberately, agrees, saying that these demands would certainly bust the city budget, clocking in at an unaffordable $2.5 billion per year.
“Without question, the deal we put on the table is the best in the Chicago Teachers union history,” declared the Mayor. “Despite all this, the Chicago Teachers Union intends to forge ahead with a strike.”
As might be expected, Union leaders do not see things quite that way. For them, one of the main sticking points is the inordinately large class sizes their teachers have to deal with — especially when compared to suburban schools, and even other big city school districts throughout the country.
“CPS’ current class size offer falls far short of what’s needed to address the sweeping scale of the problem,” they said in a statement.
Additionally, the CTU wants to shorten the school day by thirty minutes, something the Mayor finds anathema.
“The union is still demanding to shorten instructional time by 30 minutes in the morning,” Mayor Lightfoot noted. “We won’t do that. We will not cheat our children out of instructional time.”
Union Vice President Stacy Davis Gates described the Mayor’s and the City which she represents position as a “gross disconnect”:
“To say that you have offered a proposal that respects what we are asking for, to say you’ve bent over backward …. it’s absolutely ridiculous,” Gates said in response to the Mayor.
In a desperate attempt to fill the breach that this strike has wrought, various and sundry public, private and community organizations have finalized preparations to help the kids get through this grown-up disagreement over them — but, in most cases, at a cost (after all, this still is a capitalist society, right?).
For example, amazingly, Chicago’s world renowned Shedd Aquarium has offered Chicago’s low and lowest income students with nowhere else to go, all-day, $100 per day, camping “excursions.” Nice.
More economical, however, is the James R. Jordan (super star Michael Jordan’s murdered father) Boys & Girls Club of Chicago at a more reasonable and accessible $20 annual membership fee.
Mimi LeClair, president of the Boys & Girls Club of Chicago, allowed that this strike strikes hard against single parents, particularly those working for employers who simply refuse to understand.
“It’s a horrendous dilemma, deciding between likely losing their job or having their paycheck docked when they rely on every penny, or leaving their children home alone,” LeClair said.
Either way — losing money (and defaulting on the bills) or essentially abandoning the kids to the wiles of Chicago’s mean streets— this strike is a no-win situation for the students and their parents.
But! ?The city has a plan, too, for these now nowhere-to-go kids and their at-their-wits-end parents. All public libraries are tasked to provide at least some kind of programming for the not-quite-locked-out students.
Then, thankfully, there are Chicago’s thousands of churches and community centers — all hooked into the City’s “Safe Haven” program. That’s the system intended to give kids a safe place, mainly during the summer months and particularly on the city’s South and West sides. It’s meant to serve as a “haven” — either a first or last resort — from Chicago’s notorious and seemingly never-ending gangland warfare. Its principal, but not only, oases include all Chicago City fire and police stations.
The YMCA of Metro Chicago has long conducted all-day programs for children ages 5 to 12, kids too young to be left alone during the day. Those parents not comfortable sending their young children to basically unattended schools may send or bring them to the Y. (No word on the cost, however).
“Real life still happens,” said Man-Yee Lee, a spokeswoman for the organization. “Parents still need to go to work and their kids still need somewhere to go.”
Again, unlike most strikes, this one is not primarily about wages. Sixteen percent over five years is not unreasonable, and the CTU has rarely mentioned pay in its public discourse.
But having a qualified physical and mental health professional on-hand to deal with children’s inevitable physical and mental — or whatever — crises they may create, initiate, conjure up or simply imagine, is also not an unreasonable request…demand. It is supremely reasonable, especially in light of the fact that such persons (health professionals and crisis managers) — not armed police “resource officers” — are eagerly, regularly and routinely employed and deployed in just about every single one of the “white” schools on Chicago’s predominately white North Side and in its so-called predominately “white” “collar county” suburbs.
And, of course, there is the fact that Chicago City seems to never have a problem finding funding for any of its other various “public” service providers: police, fire, public works, or providing tax breaks for privately owned sports arenas, etc., ad infinitum.
But, for some apparently unfathomable reason, when it comes to helping people on Chicago’s black South and West Sides, in anything, in everything, from public works, public transportation, to public schools, the question of “affordability” seems to take center stage.
Note To Our Rookie Mayor:
Let me say it directly: The public schools’ overwhelmingly black character has been the traditional reason Chicago’s school kids have had to go without…without up-to-date books, without properly equipped laboratories, without “civics” classes, without language classes, without music classes, without art classes, without properly trained/experienced teachers, without swimming pools, without air conditioning, with outdated and often dangerous gym equipment, and yes, even sometimes without heat in the middle of Chicago’s infamous “hawk”-driven winters.
Yet the parents of these students fork over the exact same rate of tax dollars, if not more, as do the parents of “rich,” white, North Side and suburban, private and charter school parents do . Those parents take all of these “amenities” for granted and as a matter of course. They rarely, or never, have to protest, demand or beg for the facilities, personnel and resources necessary to properly educate their children.
Mayor Lightfoot, we elected (mandated) you to do something about this. We are expecting you to hurry up and get on the good foot, the right foot.