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Chicago teachers' strike ends after 11 days of canceled classes

Chicago teachers' strike ends

Chicago teachers and the nation's third-largest school district reached a labor contract deal on Thursday, ending a strike that canceled 11 days of classes for more than 300,000 students. Classes will resume Friday, the school district said. 

Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced that the district had reached a deal with the Chicago Teachers Union after months of unsuccessful negotiations led to the city's first significant walkout by educators since 2012. The union's 25,000 members went on strike Oct. 17, holding marches and rallies across the city. 

Chicago Teachers Union delegates voted late Wednesday to approve a tentative deal that includes a 16% pay raise over five years. But they still refused to end the strike unless the mayor added school days to cover the lost time. 

Chicago Schools Strike
Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot speaks at a press conference at City Hall to discuss the Chicago Teachers Union strike that has kept students out of school for 11 days. Thursday, Oct. 31, 2019, in Chicago.  Teresa Crawford / AP

Before the teachers' strike started, Lightfoot had said she did not plan on making up any lost days. But after meeting with CTU President Jesse Sharkey to negotiate a compromise, she emerged with an agreement on five makeup days. It was not immediately clear when they will be making up those days, CBS Chicago reported. "We'll be working through those logistics," Lightfoot said.  

"In the interests of our students and our parents who have been suffering, it was important to me to make sure that we got our kids back in class. Enough is enough," Lightfoot said. "And so in the spirit of compromise, we agreed. It was a hard-fought discussion. It took us a long time to get there, but I think this is the right thing." 

The mayor said she invited Sharkey to make a joint announcement on their agreement, but he declined. Sharkey said he didn't feel like "doing a celebration lap" with Lightfoot.

"What they need to see is that we have a tentative agreement and we now have a return to work agreement," he said. "I'm glad that people get to return to work. Frankly, it's been hard on teachers to be out this long and it's been hard on parents to be out this long. It's been hard on our students."   

Throughout the strike, Chicago Public Schools kept schools open, promising parents that their kids would have a safe place to go and receive meals. City parks, libraries and community groups also opened their doors to kids whose parents didn't want to leave them home alone but were uncomfortable using schools being picketed by educators. 

Families across the city breathed a sigh of relief as they heard the news.

"It is over finally, thank God," said Dominique Dukes, who has two children, ages 7 and 14. "They did miss out on their education. It was the worst experience ever. Hopefully it doesn't happen again." 

Teachers Rally For Missed Days After Deal Is Reached In Chicago Strike
 Braving snow and cold temperatures, thousands marched through the streets near City Hall during the 11th day of an ongoing teachers strike on October 31, 2019 in Chicago, Illinois.  Scott Heins / Getty Images

Teachers said the strike was based on a social justice agenda and aimed to increase resources, including nurses and social workers, and reduce class sizes, which teachers say currently exceed 30 or 40 students in some schools. Union leaders said the strike forced the city to negotiate on issues they initially deemed out of bounds, including support for homeless students.

Lightfoot said a strike was unnecessary and dubbed the city's offer of a 16% raise for teachers over a five-year contract and other commitments on educators' priorities "historic."

The agreement approved on Wednesday was not immediately released, but Sharkey said some of teachers' wins could "transform" schools in the district. The full union membership still must hold a final vote on the agreement.

Broad outlines include a 16% raise for teachers during the five-year contract, a new committee to investigate and enforce classroom sizes that surpass limits in the agreement and funding to add social workers and nurses to the city's schools.

The walkout served as one of Lightfoot's first major hurdles after taking office this year. The former federal prosecutor campaigned on a progressive platform, including school reform, and the union accused her of failing to follow through on campaign promises.

The first-term mayor dismissed questions Thursday about possible ripple effects of the strike, saying she was focused on repairing "damage" to students and families.

"Nobody wins in a circumstance like this," she said.

Union officials said they were building on massive teacher protests in conservative states, including West Virginia last year where teachers called for higher pay and greater funding for schools.

Hillary Remis, a 37-year-old science teacher at McAuliffe Elementary School, said she thinks the walkout was worthwhile and considers the compromise on makeup days "fair."

"I think we walked out with a better contract than we had to begin with from the previous contract," Remis said. "There were some good compromises by both sides. Anything that benefits the school and benefits the kids is worth it."

Chicago teachers were joined by thousands of school staff, including security guards and teachers' assistants who belong to a unit of the Service Employees International Union. That union reached a tentative agreement with the district on Sunday, but its leaders vowed to remain on the picket lines until the teachers reached their own deal.

The strike also spread from the picket line to the playing field, as some high school athletes found themselves shut out of competitions. One school, Solorio Academy, missed a chance to win its second state soccer championship in three years because the tournaments began during the strike. 

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