About 25,000 Chicago Public School teachers on Thursday began a strike after unsuccessful contract negotiations, the first such strike in seven years, according to USA Today.
The fruitless talks, which had been ongoing for months, focused on issues ranging from pay and benefits to class sizes and teacher preparation time.
After rejecting the Chicago Teachers Union’s demands, Mayor Lori Lightfoot (D) said classes would be canceled for about 400,000 public school students. Lightfoot said the union rejected a proposed 16 percent raise for teachers and claimed management “bent over backwards” to accommodate the union.
Union leaders have disputed the numbers in the offer made by the city and said the proposal still ignores other key demands such as a nurse in every school and a commitment to address issues such as affordable housing, according to USA Today.
“We have a social worker only three days a week, and her case load is about 80 to 100 students,” said Melissa Strum, a middle school reading teacher. “We only have a nurse two days a week. We should have one every day.”
“We don’t understand the response that this is not financially feasible,” said Xian Franzinger Barrett, a special education teacher at Telpochcalli Elementary School. “We see the money [in the suburbs], and we think our children are as deserving of it as anyone else’s children. That’s why you see such a passionate confrontation here.”
Teachers union members gathered to picket Thursday morning outside Chalmers Elementary, according to the newspaper, carrying signs with messages like “speed limit 30, not a class size for young children.”
“I’m striking because class size does matter. Our support staff deserves a livable wage, and we only have a nurse one day a week — are we supposed to stop teaching and become nurses?” first-grade teacher Victoria Winslow said.
Schools were staffed by administrators and non-union staff Thursday, with meals still served although classes were canceled. Another 7,500 support staff, who have been engaged in contract negotiations of their own, are expected to join the teachers on the picket line.