Mayor Lightfoot’s Austerity Budget Drowned Out by a Sea of Red and Purple

More than 30,000 members of CTU, SEIU Local 73 and our allies and supporters rallied downtown. We demanded resources for school nurses and social workers, to raise the wages of school staff—PSRPs, bus drivers—who serve our students, but remain the working poor. Loop workers were stunned and uplifted by the streams of educators who made their way from four staging sites to surround City Hall. Marchers chanted, danced and—most important—we shut it down.

At the same time, Mayor Lightfoot gave a budget address that almost entirely avoided the crisis that CPS faces. Hers was a message of austerity that shifted blame to Springfield, while maintaining the broken priorities that make our schools suffer. In the mayor’s “record TIF surplus,” she promised $136 million to CPS and immediately took back $100 million in payments to the City. This was a budget address about broken promises, regressive taxes that hurt working class families—and continuing to put the interests of the wealthy ahead of the rest of us.

Centering School Staff in Poverty

This evening, CTU and SEIU held a Town Hall on the conditions facing school staff who are working full time for our students, yet are paid below the poverty line. Today, CTU released a video featuring Bargaining Team member Willie Cousins, a teacher aide, and detailing his struggle to provide for his children on the wages CPS parses out.

Eighty issues resolved, but not the big ones

We now have 80 tentative agreements with the Board over issues that are important to our members, but involve minutiae of teaching that only particular members will appreciate in relation to their own work lives. Unfortunately, these agreements were impossible to reach with the Board of Ed until we went on strike. So, there is progress on the smaller issues—issues that are “not sexy,” as Vice President Stacy Davis Gates noted. However, there is still a long way to go on major issues like class size and staffing. Negotiations continue on essential issues, but we must keep up the fight.

VP Davis Gates was asked about the impact of the strike on student athletes. She recalled her own days as a student athlete—attributing the discipline and striving that she learned in her student days to the ability to hold strong at the bargaining table. She debunked the idea that the strike would affect athletic scholarships. At the same time, she acknowledged the disappointment and hurt that student athletes will experience in not getting to compete at the championship level for which they’ve trained so hard. She apologized for this, while noting that this strike will impact future student athletes positively for our holding strong.

Finally, she reminded reporters that the language of this contract will not “follow our members home,” but will remain in the neighborhoods of Chicago that need support. As she related the blight in communities where our members support students, she recognized our members as “gladiators for justice,” fighting for our students and for the benefit of all society.

Thursday’s activities

6:30 a.m. Pickets

Tomorrow, members return to the picket lines at 6:30 a.m. Our strike is making a difference, but we still have to prove to the mayor that she will not break our unity or our resolve. Today, workers in the loop witnessed the awesome power of educators united. Tomorrow, they need to see that same unity, power and determination at your schools. Keep up the fight!

10:30 – noon Community canvass in your neighborhood

Staff of the CTU and SEIU will provide new leaflets to strike captains for members to distribute to families, available for pickup at 6:00 a.m. Each school should choose a location at 10:30 a.m. where they can fan out to talk one-to-one with neighbors. Knock on doors, meet people outside their grocery and convenience stores, talk to folks at bus stops and CTA turnstiles. This strike isn’t about CTU officers or just about waves of marching unionists. It’s about the individuals who support our students every day, and the children who rely on us. Let the parents and community members around your school hear from you directly, person to person, about the issues that affect you and your students as you guide.

3:00 pm Civil Disobedience training

As Mayor Lightfoot tries to dig in her heels, it becomes essential that our union get creative. The mayor has tried to escalate, but we can escalate, too. We know that without struggle there can be no progress. We’ve learned that lesson from those who fought before us—and we’ve used these tactics before effectively, including in the run-up to the 2012 strike. On Thursday, members and supporters who are ready to step it up a notch are encouraged to attend this civil disobedience training. We will learn from the tactics that ended Jim Crow and stopped the Vietnam War. Together, with creativity and love, we shall overcome the attacks on public education and win the schools our students deserve.