Chicago Mayor Insists on Reopening Classrooms as Potential Teachers Union Strike Looms

Chicago Mayor Insists on Reopening Classrooms as Potential Teachers Union Strike Looms
Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot speaks during a press conference outside of Wrigley Field in Chicago, Ill., on April 16, 2020. (Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Bill Pan

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot is insisting that public school teachers resume in-person learning, as the city makes little progress in an effort to reach a deal with the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) to reopen schools that have been closed since last spring.

The Chicago Public Schools district, which serves over 355,000 students, is aiming to reopen K-8 schools on Feb. 1 for an estimated 71,000 children in those grades who wish to learn in person, as part of a phased-in school reopening plan. The union-backed teachers, citing safety concerns due to the ongoing CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus pandemic, refuse to teach classes inside school buildings and have threatened to go on strike.

“We wish we were here to announce that a deal has finally been struck. But sadly, another day has passed and the CTU has not agreed to anything,” Lightfoot said Jan. 29 at a press conference. “The CTU leadership has failed and left us with a big bag of nothing.”

“Those teachers need to be there to greet their students and teach them in-person,” Lightfoot said. “If the CTU continues not to show up and fails to work toward an agreement in good faith, then we will have no choice but to take further action.”

“Let me be clear, none of us want to go there. And we shouldn’t have to,” she added.

The CTU pushed back against the mayor’s claim that teachers need to return to in-person work, accusing the city of ruining the negotiation.

“We were well on our way, working toward an agreement around all key components with the people who are actually at the bargaining table (much like what’s happening in other cities),” the union wrote on Twitter following the press conference. “The educators in the room were working toward an agreement. The politician is blowing it all to pieces.”

According to the union, the school district—the nation’s third-largest—has balked at some of their key demands, such as adopting Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) health metrics to decide when schools should reopen and be shut again. Other rejected demands including a phased reopening of schools as teachers receive vaccinations, rapid testing of teachers and students on a weekly basis, and accommodations for teachers with health issues and those with a family member who has health issues.

In October 2019, shortly after Lightfoot took office, the CTU organized a 14-day strike, the longest since 1987. More than 300,000 students were kept out of classrooms before the union and the school district settled on the current contract agreement over issues such as raises, compensation, and retirement benefits.