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CTU ends 10-day strike with tentative agreement

By Joe Iosbaker |
October 31, 2019
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Chicago, IL - Tonight, October 30, the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) suspended its ten-day strike in the public schools, pending a back-to-work agreement. The House of Delegates (HOD) voted to accept the tentative agreement with the PSRP’s (Paraprofessional and School Related Personnel) providing lead-ership. These clerks and teacher aides are among the lower paid workers in the schools.

The Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 73 went on strike together with the CTU. Local 73 ended their strike after seven days but refused to return to work until CTU had a contract. The two unions will picket Thursday morning, and then rally at 10:00 at City Hall to demand that Mayor Lori Lightfoot extend the school year so students won’t miss ten days of instruction.

Over 30,000 teachers and workers went out on strike on October 17 in a fight for decent contracts, wage increases for the lowest-paid workers, but mainly to demand an end to the system of educa-tional apartheid. Only 10% of the students in CPS are white, and those are mainly in the selective en-rollment schools. The working class Black and Latino communities have suffered through decades of inadequate funding, and in recent decades, the privatization of public education to the benefit of in-vestors.

On Tuesday, October 29, the striking teachers marched thousands strong to the site of the Lincoln Yards development. This will be the location of 1200 new housing units, which will be too expensive for most Chicagoans to afford. The development is being built on the edge of the wealthiest part of the city, Lincoln Park. It is constructed with over $1 billion of tax money that has been siphoned away from the schools and other needs of the city. This Tax Increment Financing (TIF) process is supposed to be used to help develop economically blighted areas, but almost none of the TIF money has done that. For years, these funds have been gifts to the wealthiest developers in the city, who also make big do-nations to politicians.

CTU organized the march to demand that Mayor Lori Lightfoot assign $38 million dollars from the bil-lions in the TIF funds to meet the basic needs for Chicago Public School students to help fund a nurse, a social worker and a library in every school.

While this was happening, a smaller group of educators held a sit-in at the offices of the Lincoln Yards developer, Sterling Bay. Nine were arrested when they refused police orders to leave the offices. The teachers were demanding that Sterling Bay give back $38 million of what they received from Lightfoot in order to close the deal.

From defensive to offensive

This strike is different than 2012 or 2016. In 2012, CTU struck against Mayor Rahm Emmanuel’s attacks, such as his taking away a 4% contractual raise the year before the strike, raising class sizes even more, and over the years forcing them to teach to standardized testing.

According to Sarah Chambers, a member of the 40-person bargaining committee, and a special educa-tion teacher, “This tentative agreement has a lot of historic wins we’ve never had in any contract, in-cluding enforceable class size caps, a nurse in every school every day, sanctuary schools, and bilingual class size language. And most of these items were non strikeable issues by Illinois State Law 4.5.”

She ended, “No matter what is in the contract, we know we’ll have to continue to organize and fight in the schools, the communities and the streets.”

This year, in the words of Vice President Stacy Davis Gates, the demands in this contract showed that “Black people on the South Side and the West Side want the same things as white parents in this city.” Most white people in Chicago left the Chicago Public Schools 50 years ago for Catholic and other pri-vate schools.

SEIU Local 73 again a fighting union

In addition to the CTU and the fight for the needs of students, this strike has featured the rising of the Service Employees International Union Local 73, representing 7500 of the lowest-paid workers in the schools: bus aides, janitors, Special Education Classroom Assistants (SECAs) and security guards. In their first-ever CPS strike, these workers won raises of at least 16% over a five-year contract. SECAs will get language stopping them from having to oversee recess or the lunchroom instead of working with kids who need extra help.

Local 73 has a new leadership group under President Dian Palmer. In 2012, the union undercut the CTU strike by accepting a deal with CPS one week before the strike began. This time around, Local 73 rose along with the teachers against the continued attacks on public education.

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