CHICAGO (Reuters) – The Chicago teachers strike entered its second day on Friday as union leaders reported some headway at the bargaining table, where negotiators are trying to resolve differences that have idled the third-largest U.S. school district.
Teachers protest during a rally and march on the first day of a teacher strike in Chicago, Illinois, U.S. October 17, 2019. REUTERS/John Gress
In addition to wage increases, the union wants more money to ease overcrowded classrooms and add more nurses, social workers and other support staff. Teachers have embraced the issue of increased funding for hiring and smaller classes as a key element of the contract negotiations.
Chicago Teachers Union President Jesse Sharkey said that negotiators for the union and the school district made progress on Thursday. The district has made no comment on Thursday’s talks.
The work stoppage forced officials to cancel classes for more than 300,000 students, but school buildings stayed open for children in need of a place to go during the strike.
On Thursday, teachers clad in red T-shirts and sweatshirts formed picket lines outside many of the city’s 500 public schools, where they carried signs demanding a “fair contract” and chanting “Whose schools? Our schools.” Thousands of teachers and supporters also gathered downtown for an afternoon rally and march.
The strike, which involves 25,000 teachers, is the latest in a recent wave of work stoppages in school districts across the United States in which demands for school resources have superseded calls for higher salaries and benefits. In Chicago and elsewhere, teachers have emphasized the need to help underfunded schools, framing their demands as a call for social justice.
The strike comes seven years after Chicago teachers walked out for seven days over teacher evaluations and hiring practices. In 2016, teachers staged a one-day walkout to protest the lack of a contract and failure to stabilize the school system’s finances.
The district has offered a raise for teachers of 16% over five years, enforceable targets for reducing class sizes and the addition of support staff across the district, according to Mayor Lori Lightfoot, who was elected in April.
Lightfoot has previously said that the union’s full list of demands would cost the district an additional $2.5 billion annually.
Wall Street credit rating agency Moody’s Investors Service, which rates the district’s debt in the junk level, said on Thursday that the outcome of labor negotiations will have “substantial ramifications on whether CPS’ financial recovery continues, given its limited financial flexibility and narrow reserves.”
Reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Chicago; Editing by Steve Orlofsky