CHICAGO – Striking Chicago teachers are preparing for an extended walkout and trying to increase public pressure on Mayor Lori Lightfoot, with a downtown march set for Wednesday around the time the first-term mayor is set to deliver a key speech to the City Council.
Chicago Public Schools officials announced that classes would be canceled for a fifth day on Wednesday as negotiators continued talks behind closed doors Tuesday.
Leadership of the Chicago Teachers Union, though, already are looking ahead to Thursday.
In a video posted to the union’s Twitter account, CTU President Jesse Sharkey asked educators nationwide to show their support on Thursday by wearing red clothing, the signature color of teachers who have protested or walked out of their own classrooms across the country in recent years to call for more resources.
“We are hoping for the best and preparing for the worst,” CTU spokeswoman Chris Geovanis said Tuesday about the unions’ plans for the remainder of the week.
Teachers have been on picket lines in front of schools since Thursday and Democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren joined one group outside a West Side elementary school on Tuesday morning, telling teachers that the whole country should be behind them.
“I’m here because the eyes of this nation are upon you,” Warren said. “They have turned to Chicago, for you to lead the way, for you to show how the power of standing together is the power of making real change in this country.”
The Chicago Teachers Union’s 25,000 members and Chicago Public Schools remain at odds over teacher pay, limits on class sizes and additional support staff in schools. Thousands of support staff also are on strike alongside teachers.
Negotiators reported some progress over the weekend, but on Monday night union leaders said talks had stalled and blamed Lightfoot.
Earlier Monday, Lightfoot sent a letter to union leaders asking for teachers to return to work without a deal as contract talks continued and reiterated her concern that teachers’ demands are unaffordable for the district.
CTU President Jesse Sharkey described Monday’s talks as “taking a turn for the worst,” and said city and district negotiators were following the mayor’s lead.
“She wants us to simply give up on some of the most basic things that we’re asking for, and that’s not the way that labor negotiations work,” he said on Tuesday morning.
Lightfoot defended her approach and said she will continue talking about hardships that the strike causes for families, including student-athletes who are prevented from practicing or competing during a walkout and high school students trying to meet college application deadlines.
“What we’re seeing is real, human cost for this work stoppage,” Lightfoot said.
She added that the district’s finances still are shaky and heavily dependent on borrowing. The district has estimated all of teachers’ demands would add $2.5 billion to the district annual budget and officials call that unaffordable.
“This idea that we’re flush with cash and just sitting on it and not spending it on the things that we both agree matter just isn’t true,” said Janice Jackson, the district’s chief executive officer.
Lightfoot, a Democrat who was elected on a progressive platform, said she expects all members of her party “to support workers” but dismissed a suggestion that visits like Warren’s could shape contract talks.
“People are going to come in to catch a moment and then they’re going to leave,” she said. “What’s most important is that the people of Chicago know about what’s going on.”