Chicago Teachers Union strike

Matthew Rago, Editor-in-Chief

The Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) decided to go on strike in pursuit of higher compensation, smaller classroom sizes and increased access to academic and counseling resources. In response, the City of Chicago offered hundreds of additional support staff workers and a 16 percent salary increase, which would amount to an additional $19,000 per year on average. According to Mayor Lori Lightfoot, this proposal is the most generous in the history of the union.

CTU and Chicago Public Schools (CPS) came to a tentative agreement Thursday that will end the strike after 11 missed school days, following a two-hour negotiation between representatives of CPS and CTU. 

The agreement includes both limitations on class sizes and an assurance that nurses and social workers will be made available at every school five days a week. However, CTU representatives’ quest for all 11 of the missed school days to be made up for reimbursement purposes was rejected in favor of redeeming five of the missed school days. Additionally, elementary school instructors will not receive the 30-minute prep period that operated as a sticking point during negotiations.

According to the CPS website, the district offered a 16 percent pay raise in addition to a $35 million investment toward reducing class sizes, $10 million more than their previous offer. CPS also promised an additional 209 social workers and 250 nurses by the year 2023. The agreement will be voted on by the 25,000 union members in the upcoming weeks.

There seemed to be a clear division between factions who supported the strike and those who did not. Opponents claimed that the strike was a selfish maneuver that served only to disrupt the school year and, by extension, our children’s educational process. Many contended that the original compensation package offered by the city was a fair concession and that indefinite cancellation of classes would cause a spike in juvenile delinquency, particularly in Chicago’s most vulnerable neighborhoods. Finally, they pointed at the median $75,000 salary for teachers, which remains higher than 60% of college-educated Chicago workers. They said that teachers were demanding a salary increase that taxpayers simply can’t afford.

Proponents of the strike cited how teachers have been historically undervalued. They pointed at insufficient financial compensation, oftentimes averaging out to less than minimum wage considering the hours teachers invest in their profession outside of school. Furthermore, they argued lack of secondary resources, such as nurses and bilingual educators, further disadvantaged vulnerable demographics. They also supported a hard cap on class size so that students can receive a more concentrated education.

American educators are severely undervalued. These are the men and women responsible for socializing our children and shaping their minds. These teachers are instrumental in teaching our children both the basic and advanced knowledge required to excel in the world, all while exhibiting a patience many of us are incapable of. They nurture our children while instilling the discipline necessary to evolve into a productive adult. These are the men and women who have invested years of their lives in pursuit of knowledge and an education, the same education they are relaying to the next generation. If an entire city’s worth of educators–over 25,000 to be exact–are adamantly contending that they are concurrently underfunded and overwhelmed by the current standard in class sizes, perhaps it is time we listen.

We need to dismiss the notion that our schools operate a de facto daycare. Sure, it is nice that schools afford parents the opportunity to go to work unharassed, but the primary purpose of our schools is, has been and always will be to educate our youth. By demanding that our educators remain in a financially compromised situation so that we can go to work is essentially a declaration that our financial security is more important than theirs. It also insinuates a disconcerting expectation that teachers and staff should assume a parental responsibility others are eagerly trying to displace upon them. Simply put, the burden of childcare is not theirs to bear, yet they valiantly accept it anyway. 

Second, these demands are going to benefit Chicago’s youth. Sure, the CTU strike might have been a short-term inconvenience, but long-term, it is our children–the same ones enrolled in school today–that will benefit. A thorough examination of the demands put forth by the CTU shows that our educators asked for more affordable housing near public schools. They advocated for our children to be educated by role models who look and sound like them, which is an often overlooked aspect of educational engagement. Ignoring long-term benefit for short-term convenience is how chronic issues persist.

Finally, it is important to remember that strikes have never been universally embraced. When law enforcement went on strike in the early 20th century, they fought for many of the amenities we take for granted today, including the right to unionize, minimum wage, standards for workplace regulations and overtime pay. Those strikers were demonized by the media and dismissed as socialist and Bolshevik by their own leadership. When the United Mine Workers of America asked for safer working conditions, health benefits and better pay, they were met with a $3.5 million fine (adjusted to $46 million today) and forced to resume work. Our educators did not march in sub-40 degree weather for issues they deemed inconsequential. They attempted to reform a system that has ignored both their needs and the needs of our children. They stood outside because the City of Chicago has routinely exploited them from a financial perspective. But as history has shown us, the radical demands of today are the amenities and standards we take for granted tomorrow.