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Striking Chicago public school teachers and other unionized staff and their supporters march through the Loop on day two of their strike on October 18, 2019 in Chicago. (Photo: Max Herman/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

After Avalanche of Outrage Directed at Chicago Mayor Lightfoot, "Rahm Emanuel 2.0" Starts to Budge on Key Teachers' Demand

"Lori Lightfoot is keeping this strike going, denying students instructional days, because she thinks she can defeat the working class. She's wrong."

Julia Conley

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot began to crumble to a tidal wave of pressure and criticism from the city's striking teachers and their allies on Thursday and said she was willing work out a compromise on whether school make-up days will be included in the Chicago Teachers Union's new contract following a two-week strike.

The make-up days were a sticking point in a tentative deal reached Wednesday, which CTU's governing body accepted in a 362-242 vote. Anger simmered amongst union members following the vote over Lightfoot's refusal to allow the teachers to make up the 10 school days they have missed so far during the strike.

"By attempting to withhold makeup days, Lightfoot is attempting to rob children of precious classroom time in order to punish teachers for striking."
—Kelly Hayes, organizer
According to the Chicago Sun-Times, Lightfoot told reporters Thursday morning that she wanted CTU "to come to the table to compromise on makeup days," but said she wouldn't accept "unilateral demands."

The statement suggested the mayor was backing off her earlier demand that teachers return to school without an agreement that would allow them to make up lost days at the end of the school year.

"I'm not compensating them for days they were out on strike," Lightfoot said late Wednesday. "I'm not going to negotiate."

The union and its supporters lashed out at the mayor for what appeared to be a punitive response to the teachers for exercising their right to strike and demanding fair compensation and funding.

"We're not walking away from two weeks of school," CTU president Jesse Sharkey told the press. "This has always been a thing. It's labor law. Strikes end with a return to work agreement... What happened is this is a mayor who has felt personally affronted and challenged by the fact that teachers have been on picket lines."

Sharkey said he would meet with the mayor Thursday, while teachers continued rallying at City Hall.

The refusal of Lightfoot—who ran on "educational equity"—to provide teachers and students with makeup days drew comparisons to former mayor Rahm Emanuel, who closed dozens of schools and approved education budget cuts during his term. 

"By attempting to withhold makeup days, Lightfoot is attempting to rob children of precious classroom time in order to punish teachers for striking," said organizer and journalist Kelly Hayes. "If the mayor is willing to hurt this city's children in order to hurt its teachers, that should follow her for the rest of her term."

The deal reached by CTU and the city includes $35 million to allow for smaller class sizes, a 16 percent raise over five years, and a full-time dedicated nurse and social worker for each school by 2023.

Beyond the disagreement over makeup days, some members objected to the governing body's acceptance of the contract offered, which didn't include a demand that Lightfoot back the union's push for a law that would create an elected school board and a bill loosening restrictions on strikes.

The deal still has to be ratified by the union's 25,000 members.

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