Chicago Teachers Strike: CTU, SEIU hold downtown rally, march ahead of possible strike

CHICAGO (WLS) -- The Chicago Teachers Union held a rally and march downtown Monday, days before a possible teachers strike.

CTU and the Service Employees International Union held an indoor rally at 2 p.m., followed by a march through downtown.

About 1,000 people, including teachers, support staff and Chicago Park District employees, took to the streets in a show of union solidarity. The three groups, representing 35,000 workers, are threatening to go on strike Thursday if they cannot reach a deal on a new contract with the city.

"Look, there's a lot of people out here who want the best for our students and our public schools, that's the bottom line, that this city deserves a contract that represents fairness," said CTU Vice President Stacey Davis Gates.

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The show of force is aimed at letting Chicago Public Schools and Mayor Lori Lightfoot's office, as well as the Park District, know they are unified in their fight for new contracts.

"We've heard a lot of promises," said Joshua Lerner, CTU member. "We've heard a lot of well-meaning intentions, but we know that this is an opportunity to have some of these demands that we're fighting for for our students and families to be memorialized in a contract."

"I'm feeling optimistic. We'll know Wednesday whether we're going on strike Thursday or not," said Susana Reyes, CTU member.

CTU President Jesse Sharkey said there was some movement Monday during negotiations on the critical issue of class size, but the teachers are demanding promises about social workers and support staff be put in writing.

"We will stand for justice that we will fight, that we will fight if that's what it takes for educational justice," he said.

The teachers union is pushing for written commitments from CPS for more nurses, counselors and other support staff, which Lightfoot has been unwilling to do up to this point. The mayor said in a tweet Monday that they have sweetened their offer and there were hints at progress, but it was not enough to win the teachers over.

"After hearing from teachers, we agreed to drop our proposal to change teacher prep time. We offered additional support for overcrowded classrooms. We committed to an additional $400,000 per year toward a pipeline for nurses, counselors and case managers," she said.

CTU did change some of its original demands over the weekend and Mayor Lightfoot expressed optimism in a statement, saying more progress happened this weekend, than at any other time at the bargaining table.

The two sides returned to the bargaining table Monday morning as teachers prepared strike signs at CTU headquarters.

At the rally earlier in the day at Chicago Temple, speakers included one of the co-chairs for presidential candidate Bernie Sanders' campaign.

"SEIU you are on justice journey mission, and there ain't no mountain high enough, ain't no valley low enough to keep you from bringing this all the way home," said Nia Turner, national co-chair for the Sanders campaign.

Monday was more than symbolic statement of union solidarity; it came with a demand for respect and a hope the next rally won't have to include strike signs.

"Lori Lightfoot get on the right foot, fair contract now," said Evelyn Davis-West, special education teaching assistant.
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