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Chicago teachers go on strike after failing to reach a contract deal

Thousands of Chicago teachers vote to strike

Chicago teachers went on strike on Thursday after failing to reach a contract deal with the nation's third-largest school district.

Both sides have been negotiating for months over salaries, class sizes and the number of support staff in schools, such as librarians and nurses. Teachers began picketing in front of schools Thursday morning, calling for the district and city to give in to their demands.

The Chicago Teachers Union members held a banner that read, "On Strike," as they announced the work stoppage at a Wednesday news conference that was streamed on the union's Facebook page.

Roughly 25,000 teachers are expected to participate in the work stoppage. The district preemptively canceled Thursday's classes earlier Wednesday but plans to keep schools open and staffed with non-union employees.

Schools will remain open as a place for children to spend the day, and three meals will be served, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot and other city officials said. But transportation and other activities, including sports practices and tutoring, are off. 

The last major teachers' strike in Chicago was in 2012.

Behind the wave of U.S. teacher strikes, a sharp drop in school funding

Chicago educators say the district has shortchanged schools after years of budget cuts and they want all the promises in writing. The district says its offer of a 16% raise over five years is comprehensive and "historic."

Lightfoot says the city's offer to the teachers protects the district's fragile finances, which faces an underfunded pension fund and declining enrollment.

"Teachers and staff are invaluable to our schools, and our offers recognize that," officials said in a blog post describing their pay proposal this month. "Although we wish we could offer more to our teachers and support staff for their hard work and dedication, we believe our offers are fair deals that meet the needs of teachers, paraprofessionals and students, and keep the district on a path of success."

Union officials, though, said the city's claims about the salary offer are misleading. Their own analysis suggests the average teacher will make about $15,000 less than the city says by the end of the proposed five-year deal.

The union has proposed a 5% annual raise during the next three years and officials argue that teachers' most recent contract, which expired this summer, didn't keep pace with inflation in the city. They also worry the costs of living in Chicago, which teachers are required to do, will keep rising and chip away at members' economic status.

"The mayor is trying to buy us off," union vice president Stacy Davis Gates said last week after union leaders flatly rejected one of the city's proposals.

"When you choose to become a teacher, a teacher's assistant, a clinician in schools, you do not do it because you want to become a wealthy individual. You do it because you want to provide opportunity for the students in your school community."

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