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Chicago Teachers Union members

According to the Chicago Teachers Union, thousands of striking members gathered in the city's Union Park on Monday. (Photo: CTU/Twitter)

'Not Going to Happen' Says Chicago Teacher After Mayor Lightfoot Urges Educators to End Strike While Contract Negotiations Continue

Invoking one of their rallying cries, the Chicago Teachers Union responded, "when we said 'put it in writing,' this isn't what we meant."

Jessica Corbett

"That's not going to happen."

Alison Eichhorn, a social science teacher and softball coach at Lindblom Math and Science Academy, offered that response Monday to Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot's proposal that the city's unionized public school teachers end a strike that started Thursday and return to classrooms amid ongoing contract negotiations.

"I don't know if the mayor is familiar with what unions do but we've gotten more deals, more tentative agreements, in the past two days than we have in 10 months," Eichhorn said at a news conference, according to the Chicago Tribune. "So it's actually up to the mayor... we're taking about bargaining in good faith and we're talking sense of urgency. We've had urgency for 10 months. The last thing we wanted to do was leave our classrooms."

The request that teachers end the strike without a final deal came Monday in a letter to Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) president Jesse Sharkey from Lightfoot and Chicago Public Schools (CPS) CEO Janice Jackson. Lightfoot and Jackson wrote that while the city and union had "made progress at the bargaining table, it is unclear that we can reach an agreement today given the current pace."

"The students and families of Chicago cannot afford to be out of school for any longer, which is why we are asking you to end the strike and encourage your members to return to work while bargaining continues," Lightfoot and Jackson added. "The CPS team will continue to negotiate in good faith and with the same sense of urgency, and we can close out the remaining issues with our students back in class."

CTU posted the full letter on Twitter, along with a lengthy response that referenced a rallying cry and hashtag the city's teachers have used to capture their broad demands of the mayor and CPS CEO during the negotiations: #PutItInWriting.

"We have been bargaining for 10 months. We bargained all weekend. We take this process very seriously. We take student need very seriously," tweeted the union. "It shouldn't take two days of being on strike to get students' needs met—needs in a school district that serves 90 percent students of color, and students who live in neighborhoods besieged by poverty, violence and Great-Depression era levels of unemployment."

CTU noted that Lightfoot—who was elected to her first term in April—ran on a promise to improve the city's schools and highlighted teachers' frustrations with her moves on public education and contract negotiations since taking office.

Members of CTU are striking not only for higher wages but also to end classroom overcrowding and staffing shortages. They are calling for additional school nurses, social workers, librarians, special education teachers, and English-Language-Learner educators to meet the needs of the 300,000 students in the nation's third-largest school district.

CTU is joined on the picket line by members of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 73, which represents about 7,000 school security guards, bus aides, special education classroom assistants, and custodians in the city's school system.

The Chicago Sun-Times reported Monday on recent developments in the city's contract negotiations with CTU:

Jennifer Johnson, chief of staff for CTU, said negotiations ended Sunday evening with both sides reaching agreements on issues affecting students experiencing homelessness, school counselors, and early childhood educators.

Johnson also said the union provided the city with a counter-proposal on class sizes, and it plans to respond to the school district's staffing proposal early Monday.

"After two days of school being canceled while we're on strike, we've seen movement and made some wins," Johnson said. "It shouldn't take being on strike for the needs of our students to be met, but as we've said repeatedly, we’re looking for a just contract."

In terms of reaching a final deal, CTU president Sharkey told reporters outside William P. Gray Elementary School in Portage Park on Monday that "I don't see any reason why it can't happen later this week."

"We could end this within a couple days," he said, "but there would need to be a commitment on the mayor's part to do that."

"This is the best-in-a-generation opportunity to do some important things," Sharkey added. "We're going to hold firm for the resources we need. We're going to hold firm as a city and as a union."

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