Live updates from Day 5 of the Chicago teachers strike: Mayor says unwieldy union bargaining team slows talks

Good evening from Day 5 of the Chicago teachers strike. With little progress in negotiations again Tuesday, the Chicago Teachers Union switched up its playbook today. Instead of dispatching teachers to their schools to picket, it sent most of them downtown for a big rally that shut down much of the Loop.

The rally was timed for Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s first budget address, which she gave this morning in City Council chambers at City Hall. The teachers union wasn’t the only group present: Several activist groups with agendas beyond education turned out as well.

Our caffeine-fueled team — Cassie Walker Burke (@cassiechicago), Yana Kunichoff (@yanazure), and Ariel Cheung (@arielfab) — has been keeping the live updates going as the strike finishes its first week. Follow along here.

7:51 p.m. Mayor: Unwieldy union team slows bargaining

Mayor Lori Lightfoot told the editorial board of Crain’s Chicago Business Wednesday that the Chicago Teachers Union bargaining team was too big and too slow.

“There is some progress being made but not enough — and not fast enough,” she said in a wide-ranging interview with the newspaper’s editorial board.

Lightfoot noted that more than 40 people sit on the union’s team and insisted the size is an impediment to negotiating efficiently. She said that the union takes “days not hours” to respond to the school district’s proposals, and that “the two core issues that the union identified for us, class size and staffing, we have given them written proposals and we are waiting for an answer.”

She said that the two sides are negotiating more now than when the strike began. But even when they are in the same building, the teams spend only a small portion of their time across the table from one another. Sometimes the union’s bargaining team arrives late, she said; often they go into caucuses that can last hours.

Still, this isn’t toughest negotiation she’s been through in her three decades as a lawyer, she told a Crain’s journalist.

(The union shot back on Twitter: “Of course this isn’t the toughest negotiation she’s been a part of. Because she hasn’t been a part of it.”)

“I have no idea when it’s going to end,” Lightfoot said, explaining that the two sides have reached agreements on minor issues, but “on the bigger issues that are going to make the difference between when the dispute is resolved and when it isn’t, we’re not there yet.”

As the strike moves into its sixth day, a member of the Crain’s editorial board asked the mayor if the school year should be extended to make up for the school days missed during the strike. “No, I do not, and we will not” by even one day, Lightfoot said. She cited logistical issues, such as high school seniors needing final transcripts to enroll in or finance their post-secondary education.

Which makes an expedited resolution all the more imperative, she said.

“When I say there’s got to be a quickened pace and a sense of urgency and a way to get to resolution and check off issues so we can move on to the next one,” the mayor said, “I mean it.”

4:20 p.m. No classes Thursday

The last two days, Chicago Public Schools has announced on Twitter at the stroke of 4 p.m. that classes would be canceled the following day. That didn’t happen today, but district officials have just informed families what had become a forgone conclusion: There won’t be classes on Thursday — the sixth school day missed due to the teacher strike.

3:50 p.m. How the other strike fares

Just one more reminder that SEIU73, the local chapter of the Service Employees International Union, is also on strike right now in Chicago. We’ve just posted a story about how the union’s school workers — many of the lowest-paid in the city — are faring after five days without pay.

2:46 p.m. Seeing red on social media

Thursday’s solidarity social posts are likely to come from far beyond the city, now that American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten has amplified Chicago union chief Jesse Sharkey’s request for strike supporters to share pictures of themselves wearing red with the union’s #PutitinWriting hashtag. Weingarten sent an email to AFT members and allies across the country directing them to Sharkey’s video, which he released on Tuesday.

1 p.m. Taking teachers’ temperature

Teachers who attended the union’s morning rally ahead of the mayor’s budget address said they are tired but resolute.

What’s keeping Kadisha Harris, a social studies teacher at Amelia Earhart Elementary School, going is thinking about her students who had to teach her how to give them their asthma medication because the school doesn’t have a full time nurse.Become a Chalkbeat sponsor

“Financially, it might be a little struggle, but it’s a short-term struggle for a long-term relief,” Harris said, referring to the fact that teachers are not paid during a strike. “I miss my students, and I miss teaching,” said Harris, who took part in the 2012 teachers strike.

Lorena Jimenez, a special education at Piccolo Elementary School in Humboldt Park, said she’s committed to the strike but felt demoralized after the letter from the mayor telling teachers to go back to work.

“That to me is really disrespectful and really demeaning,” she said. “It’s so many days outside of the classroom. I’m worried about the kids, I’m worried about myself, I’m worried about budgeting.”

12:30 p.m. A contrasting special education view

Earlier this week, we published a First Person piece from a mother who said her son’s experience in Chicago as a student with disabilities made her support the strike. On Tuesday, Cassie met a mother with the opposite takeaway.

“One of my kids, who has a disability and needs to be in a routine, she is going around the house in circles and she’s just cleaning,” said the mother, who asked to be identified as Mary, her first name, to avoid repercussions for her children. “Only parents in the disability world will understand — all she’s doing is packing things in boxes because she doesn’t know what to do. I’m so over it.”

Mary said her reservations about the strike were rooted in her child’s school experience, not just the disruption this week, and her desire for change. “All of the learning and instruction that is supposed to be taking place isn’t happening,” she said.

“I’m not on [the mayor’s] side. I’m not on the side of CTU, either. I’m not on anyone’s side,” Mary added. “I’m on my children’s side.”

11:30 a.m. Homeless families get a budget boost

With a teachers contract still up in the air, Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s address was short on education details. But her budget does deliver on a pledge to the Chicago Teachers Union to address some of its concerns about affordable housing in the city. The budget puts $5 million into a “flexible housing pool” to connect frequent users of emergency rooms and shelters to supportive housing and increases by another $5 million a fund for construction of affordable housing units.

“These investments are particularly focused on Chicago’s young people experiencing homelessness,” Lightfoot said. More than 16,000 Chicago Public Schools are estimated to be homeless, according to a September report from the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless.

11 a.m. Yes to TIF funds; no to “meaningful” property tax increases

We’ll have more soon about what Mayor Lori Lightfoot said during her budget address, but two tidbits about the budget are already making the rounds.

One is that Lightfoot is doing some of what the Chicago Teachers Union has urged her to do and use special funds called TIFs to generate new revenue for Chicago Public Schools.

Of a $300 million TIF surplus that she declared Wednesday, $163 million will go to schools — $66 million above what the district had already budgeted, the Sun-Times is reporting. But those funds cover only a portion of the city’s current offer to the union, not any of the additional concessions the union wants. Lightfoot also vowed in her speech to reform how the city deploys TIF funds, which are intended for community improvement projects: “The days of the TIF slush fund are over,” she said.Become a Chalkbeat sponsor

Second, Lightfoot emphasized that she was able to go from a $838 million budget hole to a balanced budget — one that includes some improvements, such as Sunday library hours in some neighborhoods — without “meaningful” property tax increases.

That’s likely to calm the fears of some in the city who have viewed the teachers union contract talks, and their mounting costs, with trepidation.

“I’m very saddened that I can’t be there to tutor my kids right now. And I was a teacher at one time. I know class size is important,” said Janet Rhines, who volunteers with Open Books’ Reading Buddies program and who visited the Museum of Contemporary Art on Tuesday. “But I’m also a taxpayer, and I’ve seen the taxes in my neighborhood go up drastically to the point where we’ve considered moving and maybe even leaving the state. I’m torn between the sides.”

10:30 a.m. Freedom schools and volunteering

As the strike wears on, community groups are launching new initiatives every day for students whose teachers are on strike. Two that crossed our desk this morning: a “freedom school” starting Thursday in Kenwood that will focus on equity issues and a volunteering opportunity organized by the Jewish United Fund of Chicago.

10:15 a.m. View from the school bus

Ariel joined bus aides, who are members of another union on strike, as they headed to this morning’s citywide rally. Here’s her report:

Bus aide Althea McCaskill was stunned as she and other SEIU Local 73 union members drove past The 78 megadevelopment on a bus heading to the downtown strike this morning.

As union President Dian Palmer pointed out that The 78 will receive $700 million in tax-increment financing subsidies, McCaskill stared out the window in disbelief. “I did not know that,” she said quietly. “I can’t afford that. And to see the things they’re doing, it’s like [saying], ‘We don’t care about you.’ ”

McCaskill has been a bus aide for 10 years and makes about $16,000 a year. No matter how long she works during her 22-mile commutes from the first student pick-up at 108th Street to Disney Magnet Elementary School, she is paid for four hours. She rises at 4 a.m. to make it to her bus by 5:30 a.m. Her work day pauses during school hours, but the break from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. isn’t enough time for other part-time work, and she’s gone two years without a raise, she said.

“I do this every day, faithfully, for 10 years. Why can’t I get paid what I’m worth?” McCaskill said. The single mom of a teenager and an adult with special needs lived in a shelter for months before she was selected in a lottery for low-income housing. Even so, she is often charged a late fee when she can’t pay her rent on time.

10 a.m. Budget time

Mayor Lori Lightfoot is minutes away from starting her first budget address since taking office. She’s planning to outline her spending priorities — and what she’ll do to deal with the city’s predicted $838 million budget shortfall.

That gap is one reason why Lightfoot emphasized on Tuesday that she cannot responsibly make further concessions to the teachers union. Already, she said, the city has agreed to $500 million in new spending over five years.

9 a.m. That’s commitment

Spotted in the throng downtown: A Chicago Teachers Union member who is 37 weeks pregnant wearing a sign that says, “Having strong CONTRACTions, but in need of a strong CONTRACT.” Margot Taylor said she’s planning to stand at the edge of the rally in case she has to go to the hospital.

(Teachers in Chicago get 10 paid days of parental leave to care for newborns, then can use sick time to extend their paid time off. That’s less paid time off than many workers get, but more than is required by law. New York City’s union recently won 12 to 14 weeks of parental leave for its members, who previously received no paid time off.)

8:40 a.m. Where the issues stand

Having trouble figuring out what’s really happening behind the scenes in negotiations? You’re not alone. We stepped back to look at what has happened so far — and what could come next — for five big issues that union leaders have said are the most important when it comes to reaching a deal. Those issues are support staffing, class size, teacher prep time, contract length, and pay.Become a Chalkbeat sponsor

A lot is still in flux but at least one thing is unlikely to change. From our article: “Legally, the union can’t strike over anything other than compensation issues. Reaching an agreement on pay would make it impossible for the union to keep pressing on class size, support staffing, and other issues, so expect teacher pay to be the last issue to be settled.”

8:10 a.m. On the bus

According to a recently posted job description, school bus aides in Chicago help students get on and off their buses; keep order while the bus is moving; and refer students who have misbehaved to their schools for discipline. They also lift students with disabilities, many of whom take schools buses.

Today, many of the aides, who are represented by another union on strike, are joining the citywide rally. Ariel is riding along.

8 a.m. All eyes on Chicago

One result of the strike’s extended duration is that national news organizations have now had a chance to cover what’s happening here. In the last couple of days, we’ve spotted an NBC News piece that focuses on teacher pay; a Jezebel ridealong with striking teachers; and a Teen Vogue story that emphasizes what students have to say, among others.

7:30 a.m. Charter strike day 2

About 40 teachers at Passages Charter School on the city’s North Side strike for a second day in the Andersonville neighborhood. About 420 students attend the school, which offers pre-K through eighth grade instruction to a mostly immigrant and refugee student body. Nearly 70% are from low-income families, and 38% are English language learners.

Cassie met Tessa Simonds, a middle school language arts teacher there, on the first day of the Chicago Teachers Union strike, when Passages teachers joined district teachers on picket lines. Simonds, a member of the bargaining team, said the issues at the table were teacher salaries, special education services, and the school day and school calendar. “Wages are still far below those of Chicago Public Schools,” Simonds said.

Last school year, Chicago saw three charter teachers strikes at various networks. In most of them, teachers won changes after walking out. At Acero schools, which last winter saw the first-ever charter teacher strike in the country, teachers won pay raises, a class size cap, a shorter school year, and language in the contract declaring schools off-limits to immigration officers.

6:30 a.m. Loop logistics

The traffic and weather reporters have started early with maps showing potential street closures downtown due to the rally. Police are warning commuters of traffic delays and suggest taking public transit. Extra officers will be stationed downtown.

Here’s the plan for the morning. Teachers union members have been told to gather at four locations at 8 a.m. and march to City Hall.

  • 311 S Wacker Park (Jackson/Wacker)Swisshotel (near Wacker/Columbus)
  • D’Angelo Park (Harrison/Franklin)
  • Millennium Park (Randolph/Michigan)

Multiple activist groups plan to meet teachers outside of City Hall around 9 a.m. Mayor Lori Lightfoot is expected to give her budget address starting at 10 a.m. A rally will follow at 11 a.m. outside the Thompson Center.

The article was published at Live updates from Day 5 of the Chicago teachers strike: Mayor says unwieldy union bargaining team slows talks

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