Negotiators took a break from the bargaining table Monday as thousands of teachers and school staff took to the streets, calling for what they believe to be a “fair contact.”
They have less than three days to reach a deal before teachers form picket lines Thursday morning.
Hundreds of union members from both the Chicago Teachers Union and SEIU Local 73 rallied in the Chicago Temple before stepping off on a march around City Hall and past the Chicago Public Schools central office.
Speakers from a variety of positions across all three unions, which include a union representing some Chicago Park District workers, delivered impassioned speeches, calling for a “fair contract” or promising to walk off the job later this week.
“Mayor Lightfoot, we expect you to stand with us. But in the event the mayor chooses otherwise, we will, shut it down!” SEIU Local 73 President Dian Palmer told the fiery crowd.
CTU President Jesse Sharkey closed out the hour-and-a-half long rally, before the march.
“We have not secured smaller classes for our neediest children, we have not secured promises in writing for staffing, we have not secured benefits that don’t cut into people’s checks and erode our ability to have a standard of living,” he told the audience. However, he also told the crowd that averting a strike is not impossible.
Negotiators for both the city and the union say it seems they have made progress since the union presented an additional proposal at Saturday’s negotiating session. The mayor called it the most progress she has seen up to this point.
She did not take questions from reporters today, but did share a statement on Twitter.
“All in all, our 72-page counteroffer provides more than 80 proposed changes to the collective bargaining agreement, on issues requested by the CTU,” she said. “Everything we’ve put on the table is grounded in our fundamental respect for the dignity of teachers and school staff.”
A source familiar with negotiations says one of the problems that has slowed negotiations down is the CTU’s bargaining unit, formerly known as the “big bargaining unit” of 40 rank-and-file CTU members. The union has used them to take the temperature of membership on the contract before presenting it to the House of Delegates and the full membership.
In order to call off the strike, the CTU needs to reach a deal with the city with enough time to take the deal to its 700-member House of Delegates for approval.
The members have scheduled an emergency meeting for late afternoon Wednesday, where they’ll either vote on a potential contract—possibly averting a strike—or reaffirm plans to walk out.
Union VP Stacy Davis Gates says there is pressure to work this out, and for now, it sounds like both sides believe they're making some progress.
“Suddenly we see a proposal on the table about housing, about making things better for our students,” she told WTTW News during the march. “So, if there is a will to continue negotiating and keep pushing the envelope on the side of CPS and the city, we’re going to continue to do it with them.”
“We’re going to have to get to the point where we’re partners, and it does not take the threat of a strike to get people to speak in very positive manner about transforming our schools.”
Teams resumed bargaining around 7 p.m. Monday night and are expected back at the table again Tuesday.
Follow Brandis Friedman on Twitter @BrandisFriedman