Strike would put 35,000 workers with the CTU and SEIU Local 73 on the picket lines in bid to force CPS to invest portion of over $1 billion in annual new revenue in student needs. Click for link to livestream of union’s press conference tonight.

CHICAGO, October 2, 2019—Elementary schools with classrooms of over 40 children. Teaching assistants who make poverty wages. Desperate shortages of counselors, social workers and school nurses for students struggling with trauma and poverty. Too few teachers for English language learners, in a school district that is nearly half Latinx. Special education students who continue to go without federally mandated educational services and supports. Nine out of ten majority-Black schools with no teacher librarian. And virtually no progress at the bargaining table—after more than nine months of negotiations for a new contract.

CTU members have had enough. Tonight those members’ elected representatives, their delegates, set a strike date of October 17. That vote comes on the heels of a vote last week to by 94% of the CTU’s rank and file members to authorize a strike—a higher percentage than for the union’s historic 2012 strike and 2016 one-day walkout.

CTU rank and file members are especially outraged that Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, who campaigned for her office on an education equity platform that closely mirrors the CTU’s, has refused to enshrine those promises for educational justice in writing.

“I voted yes today for my three children and for all of our schoolchildren,” said Monroe Elementary teacher Lori Torres, who has three children in Chicago public schools. “If my kids need to see a counselor, they have to wait—because their counselor is covering a classroom instead of counseling. If my child gets hurt on the playground and the school clerk can’t help, he goes without medical care. As an elementary school teacher, I know that we all need our prep time—because we already don’t get enough to grade our papers, call our parents, plan our lessons or meet CPS’ paperwork requirements. There’s so much more that our students need—and so much that is lacking. If we don’t advocate for it, if we don’t fight for it, who will?”

CPS can afford the CTU’s demands. By its own admission, the district is on solid—and stable—financial footing today. After 2017, the district began receiving more than $1 billion annually in new public funds in the wake of historic state legislation that reformed the school funding formula—legislation the CTU fought for in Springfield. That legislation created an equity-based school funding formula that channels more funds to school districts like Chicago that have high numbers of students in poverty and higher numbers of overcrowded classrooms.

Yet CPS has refused to use those new funds to alleviate dire conditions in the schools—and spent less on classroom needs in this year’s record $7.7 billion budget than it did last year.

“We’re fighting for the schools our students deserve—and class size matters,” said Robin Black Boose, a teacher at Ashe Elementary, where overcrowding is a serious problem. “Last year. my second grade classroom had 40 students. 40 students. This year, our kindergarten classroom has 39 students. Our students deserve better. But at the bargaining table, management doesn’t even want to talk about class size. The mayor’s always talking about equity. What about justice for our students?”

Should the union and CPS fail to come to agreement on a new contract before October 17, they’ll be joined on the picket line by 7,000 members of SEIU Local 73, which represents special education classroom assistants, janitors and security officers in CPS. Earlier this week, those workers announced their intention to strike on October 17 as they battle for better working conditions for their low-wage members, who are overwhelmingly Black and Latinx.

“My husband works for CTU, as well,” said SEIU member Karen Bynum, who works at Ray Elementary. “If we go on strike, all of our family’s income will be cut off. But we’re willing to take this stand because we’re fed up with oversized classrooms with not even enough seats in the classroom, no librarians, dirty conditions with no air conditioning, no gym teachers, broken faucets and water fountains, and nothing we can do to help our students. We have students with diabetes and sickle cell anemia, but if we don’t have a nurse every day—and we don’t—something could happen to those kids that could literally take their lives. We have got to take a stand for our students and we are going to get our students what they need.”

Those words were echoed by Linda Perales, a special education teacher at Corkery Elementary in Little Village. who spoke in both English and Spanish at the packed CTU union hall.

“We don’t want to strike, but we will if we have to,” said Perales. “Our students deserve smaller class sizes. They deserve nurses. They deserve social workers. They deserve bilingual educators. This is what we’re asking for at the table, and we’re willing to strike to get them for our students.”

Bargaining between the CTU and CPS continues on Thursday.