TA represents where CPS should have started months ago, not where agreement landed, as rank-and-file organize safety committees with power to enforce mitigation standards in schools.

CHICAGO, Feb. 10, 2021 — Rank-and-file Chicago Teachers Union members voted tonight to approve a tentative agreement (TA) on a path to reopening school classrooms safely.

Just before 12:30 a.m. Wednesday, February 10, the CTU Rules & Elections Committee certified the ballot results on the proposed framework for returning to in-person learning in Chicago Public Schools. 13,681 members voted yes; 6,585 voted no. Total ballots cast were 20,275, among total eligible ballot tokens of 25,367.

The TA represents the absolute limit to which CPS was willing to go at the bargaining table to guarantee a minimum number of guardrails for any semblance of safety in schools. The mayor’s handpicked Chicago Board of Education made clear that they would not offer any additional movement at the bargaining table and would lock out thousands of rank-and-file educators who remained teaching remotely. That move would have derailed remote education for hundreds of thousands of CPS students.

CTU President Jesse Sharkey emailed the following statement to members in announcing the vote results.

Sisters and Brothers:

The proposed framework is now a ratified agreement between the Chicago Teachers Union and Chicago Public Schools.

Let me be clear. This plan is not what any of us deserve. Not us. Not our students. Not their families. The fact that CPS could not delay reopening a few short weeks to ramp up vaccinations and preparation in schools is a disgrace. Yet the mayor and CPS leadership were willing to do even further harm to our school district to maintain that posture. That’s how much they care about real safety for students, their families and the educators and school staff who support them.

This agreement represents where we should have started months ago. That is a stain on the record of their administration. In a humane system, we would have used this as a beginning to build out real equity for school communities which had been starved of resources and equity decades before the pandemic hit.

But the agreement does put us in a vastly better position than we were in November, when even after months of struggle, CPS planning and preparation would have been laughable were it not so dangerous. Our school clerks and technology coordinators reported the threats to safety that they saw on the ground for months, while CPS did nothing. They will now have access to vaccines and enforceable safety measures that should have been in place before they were asked to step foot back into their buildings.

We will protect ourselves by using the school safety committees created under this agreement to organize and see that CPS meets safety standards and mitigation protocols. Safety committees will enforce this agreement, have access to information and the ability to change unsafe practices in their school.

The agreement also lays out gains on accommodations, vaccinations, delayed re-opening, school closing metrics, and more. Again, although thousands of members gained telework accommodations to protect their health or at-risk loved ones, we did not get what we wanted or what we deserved. CTU members fought hard and sacrificed for this, so we have to protect and use it.

Talk to your delegate, read the agreement, and make sure your school community understands the safety standards, rights and options our members will now have access to.

Basic safety shouldn’t even be a negotiation, let alone a privilege. Yet it is in Chicago under this mayor. It’s time for mayoral control of our public schools to end. That’s why delegates overwhelmingly passed a vote of no confidence in the mayor and CPS leadership on Monday night.

We know that educators have not been standing in the way of reopening. A pandemic that has taken millions of lives across the world is standing in the way of reopening. In Chicago, the pandemic has collided with students’ lives, and collided with the Black and Brown neighborhoods that CPS and Chicago mayors have starved of resources for decades. Thousands of students have lost at least one loved one to COVID. Those children – our students – deserve safety.

Our parents and school families stood with us in this struggle because we stood for safety. They challenged the double talk of equity from the mayor and CPS, while they rejected every equity proposal at the table. We owe a deep debt of gratitude to these families, and to all of the people of this city who believed in us and supported this fight.

No one sacrificed more in this struggle than our rank-and-file members who were locked out, docked pay or faced discipline We owe them our most profound thanks for making the impossible possible. Those educators – Corkery cluster teacher Linda Perales, Sadlowski teacher Quentin Washington, Lawndale Community Academy teacher assistant Shavon Coleman, and so many more – are the leaders that finally moved the bargaining table. They made CPS finally negotiate. They delayed reopening. They cracked open the mayor’s hypocrisy. On Tuesday, the day we were voting on this agreement, CPS began at last to reinstate those locked out workers.

This week, we’re mourning our beloved sister, President Emerita Karen GJ Lewis. Karen would have been so proud of our rank-and-file, and our unity, democracy and determination to fight for the common good. Please join us at her shiva Wednesday and Thursday to share your memories and celebrate her fearlessness, her brilliance, her humor and her great humanity.

The Chicago Teachers Union represents more than 25,000 teachers and educational support personnel working in Chicago Public Schools, and by extension, the nearly 400,000 students and families they serve. The CTU is an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers and the Illinois Federation of Teachers and is the third-largest teachers local in the United States. For more information please visit the CTU website at www.ctulocal1.org.