“We are entrusted with the responsibility to teach our students, but there’s no learning if the classroom is over 90 degrees or below 65 degrees with no heat because our HVAC systems are broken and outdated. There’s no learning when there’s a polar vortex blanketing or heat wave over Chicago and we don’t have proper air ventilation in our schools. When we have lead in our drinking water or mold painted on our walls. The only way to keep CPS accountable, to make it a priority to create a healthy learning environment in our school communities, is if CTU demands healthy green schools in our contract negotiations….How do we put ourselves on a more accountable timeline for our students?”

—CTU President Stacy Davis Gates, when asked why a teachers union is making environmental policy a contract demand

CTU-CPS First-Ever Public Bargaining Session

WATCH Friday’s CTU-CPS first-ever public bargaining session
on Healthy, Safe, Green Schools.

More than 1,800 people tuned into the CTU-CPS public bargaining session on “Healthy, Safe, Green Schools” Friday night via the livestream, and nearly 150 people attended in person at Marquette School of Excellence for the first of up to six public bargaining sessions during contract negotiations.

Given that the average age of a CPS school building is 84 years old, CTU members are making healthy, safe, green schools a top priority in our contract negotiations. Our schools need to be updated and modernized so our students can have the learning environment they need to be successful.

Eleven people seated together at a table, with six in front and others behind them.

CTU’s Healthy, Safe, Green Schools Bargaining Team listens as CPS responds to audience questions.

In Friday night’s bargaining session, CTU members, community stakeholders, and parents told CPS what students are experiencing in their classrooms and school communities.

Woman at a podium

Community partner Olga Bautista, Co-Executive Director of the Southeast Environmental Task Force, presents at public bargaining.

“Many of our schools are located in areas with poor air quality due to industrial pollution and heavy traffic. Neighborhoods like the Southeast Side face higher levels of pollutants that cause respiratory issues and exacerbate asthma. Students who struggle to breathe cannot focus on their studies. And that ain’t right. We all know stories about teachers using their personal money to buy water for their students because the water from the school’s lead pipes are unsafe to drink,” said Olga Bautista, Co-Executive Director of the Southeast Environmental Task Force and a CPS parent.

A map of Chicago with the darkest, reddest areas depicting pollution on the southwest and south sides.

A map of Chicago showing poorer air quality (orange and red) in South and West Side neighborhoods, part of the presentation on environmental racism in Chicago from Cheryl Johnson, Executive Director of People for Community Recovery.

“Our students deserve to learn in a safe and healthy environment,” said Ayesha Qazi-Lampert, a teacher and member of CTU’s Climate Justice Committee and Friday night’s bargaining team. “The inequities we see among our facilities and the disproportionate environmental burden our Black and Brown students face in our schools can be addressed through intentional policy change and intentional investment from CPS.”

A woman at a podium.

Ayesha Qazi-Lampert, a teacher and member of CTU’s Climate Justice Committee and Friday night’s bargaining team, presents to CPS.

President Davis Gates noted her disappointment at the absence of CPS CEO Pedro Martinez and Board President Jianan Shi at this historic public bargaining session. CTU Climate Justice Committee members, teachers Ayesha Qazi-Lampert and Lauren Bianchi, presented CTU’s contract proposals with the expertise that comes from listening to students, educators, and community members and combining that with real, data-informed solutions. CTU’s bargaining team reminded the CPS team that we have an unprecedented opportunity to access Chicago’s share of more than $300 billion dollars available from the federal government to modernize our school buildings and campuses.

Review CTU’s Healthy, Safe, Green Schools proposals here.

With this first-ever public bargaining session, we were able to bring CTU’s common good contract negotiations out of the traditional closed rooms and onto the front yard of Chicago. During this first session we were able to secure a commitment from CPS to share with us the details of their efforts to win more money from the federal and state governments to invest directly in modernizing and making our school buildings and campuses climate-ready. This will be key to our ability to ensure that CPS is pursuing all possible resources for this critical need. We also laid the foundation to win on our Healthy, Safe, Green Schools proposals – which will be a win for students, communities and educators alike.

The crowd at the public bargaining session in the gym of Marquette Elementary.

Members and community members listen to presentations at public bargaining.

As CTU President Davis Gates said after bargaining: “Now, CPS has to shift their priorities to match our shared vision.”

CTU and CPS have agreed to hold four to five more public bargaining sessions over the summer and into the school year, giving our communities a front-row seat to the important issues CTU is negotiating for our members, students, and school communities. See you at the next one in July!

Watch the Public Bargaining session’s livestream here.

We Care Funding Victory

Dozens of people in red tee shirts in front of the state capitol's statue of Abe Lincoln.

CTU members rally outside of the State Capitol at our Lobby Day in May.

Through the We Care program, CTU has mentored more than 1,000 primarily Black and Brown early career teachers, by matching them with veteran mentor teachers. This is a critical resource designed to help retain and support teachers in their first year of teaching, which is an essential strategy for addressing the teacher shortage we are experiencing in Chicago and nationally. After federal pandemic funding disappeared this year, Illinois state legislators planned to cut the We Care Program—but CTU members wouldn’t let this vital program come to an end.

CTU members demanded that the state maintain funding for the We Care program in the state budget, rallying in Springfield for We Care along with the Illinois Federation of Teachers and the Illinois Education Association, and making preserving this program a fundamental part of our May 15th Lobby Day demands.

Your tireless advocacy worked: we pushed the Illinois State Board of Education to do the right thing and provide funding to maintain the We Care Program for another year.

This victory is not the end—our early career teachers need resources, which means consistent federal funding for the We Care program. We will share more ways for you to take action to support the We Care program soon.

Bargaining will continue the week of June 24, following this week’s Juneteenth holiday. The next session is on Teacher Evaluation (REACH) and Educator Recruitment and Retention on June 26. Stay tuned.

—The Chicago Teachers Union Leadership team