CTU strike finally comes to a close

CTU demonstrators march from the Thompson Center to City Hall Thursday morning to ask for the lost days.

By Grace Asiegbu
Medill Reports

Mayor Lori Lightfoot and the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) agreed on a five-year labor contract, ending the record 11-day strike that kept 35,000 students at home.

The two sides had reached an agreement late on Wednesday about the contract, with specifics including a nurse and a social worker in every school community every day and a hard cap on class sizes. However, the strike was extended for one day because they couldn’t agree on a number of make-up days.

The news came on the heels of a closed-door meeting in which Mayor Lori Lightfoot and CTU leaders agreed to make up five school days lost to the strike — reversing the union’s earlier demand to make up all 11 days.

Earlier in the day, a compromise seemed unlikely as Lightfoot held a press conference where she doubled down on her unwillingness to compromise with what she felt was a “take it or leave it” demand.

“I have no sense that they are willing to compromise,” she said. “If they want to come to the table in the spirit of compromise, I’m certainly willing to listen.”

Chris Baehrend, chair of the charter division of the Chicago Teachers Union, said the deal is what the CTU was looking for, adding that they wanted nothing more than what was best for the students.

“This is really about better schools for students,” Baehrend said. “We have the best opportunity in a generation to improve working conditions for our students. We got a deal that’s got incredible wins. People are back in the classrooms and we’re excited about that,” Baehrend said.

The CTU strike has been one of the longest Chicago teacher’s strikes in history. The longest strike was in 1987, lasting for a total of 19 days. The most recent strike before this one was the 2012 strike, for seven days. At the core of this year’s strike were issues of class sizes and auxiliary support staff like nurses, counselors, and librarians.

Public support for the strike waned as the number of days students weren’t in class continued to climb, with seemingly no real end in sight.

Some teachers felt that the deal between CTU and Lightfoot’s office did not go far enough. Melissa Gerleve, a teacher at Lindblom Math and Science Academy, was afraid the “vague” language in the deal will come back to haunt teachers in the future.

“There’s language in there that can be used in a sneaky way, to manipulate some of the scheduling things that will be happening in the future,” Gerleve said. “It’s positive that there’s language there because there never was before… I’m just a little bit scared.”

Earlier in the day, Stacie Bell, a teacher at John T. Pirie Fine Arts and Academic Center, who showed up at a CTU rally in downtown Chicago, said the decreased public support tests her resolve as she fights for a cause she believes in.

“It makes the fight harder since we don’t have that public support. It does hurt, but I know we’re still fighting for what’s best for the kids. I have to hold it in my heart that I’m doing the right thing for the kids,” Bell said as her voice was breaking.

CPS called parents and guardians around 2 p.m. notifying them school and after school activities will resume tomorrow.

Michael Lee contributed to this report.

Photo at top: CTU demonstrators march from the Thompson Center to City Hall Thursday morning to ask for the lost days.
(Grace Asiegbu/MEDILL)