CTU officers Jesse Sharkey, Stacy Davis Gates, Christel Williams Hayes and Maria Moreno sent this bargaining update to rank and file members on June 29.

Sisters and Brothers:

It’s finally summer — and we are bargaining! Today we met with CPS as part of a regular meeting schedule to land a memorandum of agreement to return to schools next fall — with protocols that ensure safety for all of our school community and supports that meet students’ tremendous needs.

This pandemic is not over, and protecting our school communities from COVID this fall is critical, at a time when the highly infectious new Delta variant is racing across the nation. Barely one in four students returned to classrooms this spring, yet more than 85 percent of our schools surfaced COVID cases, with more than 600 pods and over nine thousand students and school staff forced to quarantine. CPS has seen almost 1,200 COVID cases in schools since January. Yet it still takes CPS six days on average — and sometimes as long as two weeks — to notify school communities of COVID cases.

CPS has got to do better. The number of students in our schools will vastly increase this fall. Yet CPS still deploys uneven contact tracing, under-reports cases, and has refused to commit to making schools hubs for students and families to access vaccines, even as vaccines continue to lag in many of our South and West Side neighborhoods. Our hardest hit school area is on the West Side, with 224 school cases since January — the largest geographic area, at twice the size of the other regions, with 120 schools, almost 7,000 employees and over 52,000 students.

The safety guardrails we fought for this spring helped mitigate massive outbreaks, but we cannot be complacent. We need to maintain the safety protocols that gave substantive protections at a time of great threat — and expand them because the threat from COVID remains.

For bargaining, we want to refine what worked well in our previous agreement, from mandatory ventilation improvements to cleaning and PPE protocols. We want to reform or retool what did not work well, like school notifications and contact tracing. We live in a new world that has changed our work, even as the pandemic has intensified the needs of our students and families. Our next agreement must reflect these new realities. That means strengthening safety, along with improving instruction by ending terrible practices like synchronous learning, providing flexibility and accommodations to those with needs, allowing local school decision-making, and investing in student, family and community recovery supports.

We’re also bargaining at a time that CPS is leaderless. While the mayor remains in control of CPS, the District is without a stable decision-maker, making the CTU the one constant in this period of transition. We will have to lead at the table when it comes to keeping the focus on safety, equity and trust.

Today’s bargaining session focused largely on CPS’ roll-out of their ‘Virtual Academy’ option for students and families. We don’t yet know the scope of the number of students expected to attend, so we will have to continue to press CPS to bargain the details to ensure adequate staffing, reasonable working conditions and schedules, and adequate job security. Medically vulnerable students need this, and CPS is already asking parents to enroll at the same time that they are asking folks to apply for jobs. While CPS has said they will prioritize medically vulnerable members for hire, we continue to have concerns that require further discussion, particularly to ensure that medically vulnerable members are prioritized and safe and that working in a virtual academy comes with job protection.

We expect to be discussing proposals built on strengthening our spring MOAs in more detail in the coming weeks. In the meantime, we wish you a delightful week in what we hope is a truly enjoyable summer.

In solidarity,

Jesse Sharkey, CTU President
Stacy Davis Gates, CTU Vice President
Christel Williams, CTU Recording Secretary
Maria Moreno, CTU Financial Secretary