Chicago Teachers Strike Ends

Oct 31, 2019
Originally published on November 1, 2019 6:30 am
Copyright 2019 WBEZ Chicago. To see more, visit WBEZ Chicago.

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

After weeks on the picket line, Chicago teachers head back to school tomorrow.

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LORI LIGHTFOOT: It was a hard-fought discussion, took us a lot of time to get there. But I think this is the right thing ultimately for our city. And I'm glad this phase is over.

CHANG: That's Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot making the announcement earlier today. Even though news broke last night that a tentative deal was in place, union leaders extended the strike into today. That means, all told, students and teachers missed 11 days of school. Sarah Karp from member station WBEZ joins us now to explain.

Hey, Sarah.

SARAH KARP, BYLINE: Hey.

CHANG: OK. So they agreed on a deal last night. Why did they decide to continue the strike for one more day?

KARP: So this last final fight was over makeup days. The mayor did not want to add any more makeup days for the strike. From her perspective, you go out on strike, you lose pay. But after a tense meeting today, the two sides - the school district and the union - compromised so that they're going to make up five days. This was like a last power struggle between the two.

But the unions said that this was not about the mayor at all. This is Vice President Stacy Davis Gates speaking after the announcement.

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STACY DAVIS GATES: My members went out for days and fought for a nurse. That is the basic minimum for most people around this country.

KARP: So what she's talking about - that this was like a big fight about having more nurses in schools, more counselors in schools, more social workers in schools. And she's saying that she doesn't think that the mayor should punish her members for going out to fight for better schools.

CHANG: OK. So ultimately, which side got more of what they wanted?

KARP: I think even the mayor would say that the union got more of what they wanted. Now, the mayor did get a five-year contract, which she really wanted because that takes her through her next election. But the union got a bunch of things. For one thing, they got those nurses. They got a nurse in schools every day in Chicago, which is very much not the case right now. They got social workers in schools every day in every school in Chicago. That's not the case now. They got lots more other positions.

In addition, they got class size limits that are enforceable. Now, that doesn't go across the entire school district. But for the neediest schools, if they have a certain number of kids in their class, they automatically are going to get a remedy. And this has been something that we've never had in Chicago before. Instead, there was sort of a prolonged process in order to remedy oversized classrooms.

So these are big wins for the union. And then they also got salary increases of 16% over five years, which is a pretty good raise over that time.

CHANG: What about the mayor here, Lori Lightfoot? I mean, she put herself at the center of these contract negotiations. What are people saying about how she's handled this whole thing?

KARP: So she's a very new mayor. She just came into office in May. She was a progressive mayor that, you know, had a lot of the same ideas as the union as a candidate. She said that, you know, she did want more resources going into schools.

But I think that people, when it came down to it, they really sided with the union because - well, she said, you know, verbally you guys should trust that I'm going to try and get more resources to the schools. The union was like, you know what? We can't trust anybody. We want to make sure these resources get to our kids.

And people were really, you know, on the side of the union. And I think that they're going to wonder why the mayor didn't come to the union side quicker, why it had to be a strike for her to come there. And actually, she even admitted that she waited too long to really start negotiating this contract and some of these items.

CHANG: Well, Chicago is one of the biggest school districts in the country. Do you think this strike might have any ripple effects for school districts beyond Chicago?

KARP: A lot of these strikes that have been going on over the last couple of years - and this strike was really about common good issues, the issues that are supposed to make schools better. And so I do think seeing Chicago get all these wins is going to have a ripple effect across the country.

CHANG: That's WBEZ's Sarah Karp.

Thanks, Sarah.

KARP: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.