Over 26,000 school teachers and 8,000 support staff in Chicago are on strike, demanding fair contacts and the recruitment of more support staff. The striking teachers, under the leadership of the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU), marched to the Chicago Public School (CPS) headquarters on Friday in support of their demands. Negotiations between the CTU and education authorities are continuing.
The major demands of the CTU are better pay and benefits, fully staffed schools, smaller classrooms and justice for students and families. The CTU has said that it is also fighting for social justice in the areas of affordable housing, sanctuary schools, sustainable community schools and restorative justice. The union said that learning also depends on the situation outside the classroom.
As of now, the average salary earned by a senior Chicago teacher is USD 71,150. Chicago mayor Lori Lightfoot’s proposal for a 16% raise over a five-year period was rejected by the CTU, which termed it inadequate. The CTU also demanded a fix to the shortage of counselors and special education teachers. Teachers also said that 1,300 classrooms in the district are overcrowded, and are seeking a maximum of 24 students per class at the elementary level. According to the CTU, teachers struggle to provide the necessary amount of attention when there are 40 or more students in a class.
Service Employees International Union’s (SEIU) Local 73 members are also actively taking part in the strike, demanding pay hikes and the recruitment of more support staff. The union said that the majority of the support staff in Chicago’s schools earn less than USD 36,000 a year.
The CTU voted to go ahead with a strike on September 26, with an overwhelming 94% of the workers backing the proposal. According to reports, the strike is the largest in the school district since 2012. Observers have pointed out that the strike in 2012 inspired the wave of teachers’ strikes across the country that peaked in 2018.