The Chicago Teachers Union Strike: Who, What, and Why

The CTU, along with other union-represented school employees have been on strike since October 17 to ask for improvements in both pay and non-pay related issues.


By Kayla Martinez

Since October 17, all Chicago Public Schools (CPS) classes have been cancelled as teachers represented by the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) are on strike. Other school employees, represented by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 73, including bus drivers and custodians, are also striking. 

What the CTU and Staff Strikers Want: While salary raises have been a sticking point in contract negotiations (the CTU proposes a 15 percent raise over three years), most strike issues revolve around student rights. The CTU is pushing for an increased number of non-teacher employees (for instance, a nurse present in each school daily) and also championing smaller class sizes and larger staff teams. Other demands include class preparation times, higher wages for support staff, and increases for veteran teachers, whose salaries stagnate unless they transition into administration. 

What the Administration Says: Mayor Lightfoot says she is committed to changes in class and staff sizes, but she and her team remain unwilling to include those guarantees in contracts, claiming that it could limit flexibility in CPS decision making. As far as salary, Lightfoot has offered a 16 percent raise over five years with some improvements in healthcare benefits. While the union has not yet accepted this offer, it does not seem to be a major point of contention.  

Current Status of Negotiations: On Monday, October 21, Lightfoot urged teachers and support staff to return to work as negotiations continue. In a letter addressed to CTU president Jesse Sharkey, Lightfoot claimed that students—particularly athletes and seniors applying to college—were suffering due to the strike. She also noted that “we put commitments in writing…to lower primary grade class sizes in high-poverty schools, and to provide every school with at least one nurse and one social worker within five years.” At 4:20 p.m. on Monday, CPS cancelled classes for Tuesday.  

What’s Happening to the Students: As 32,500 CTU and SEIU employees push for change, 300,000 students stay at home, creating a potentially challenging situation for parents who do not have the time or resources to remain at home or place their children in extracurricular activities. To alleviate this burden, schools have remained open and continue to provide meals to any students who arrive. While there is no normal bus service, Chicago Transit Authority is providing free daytime rides to all CPS students. A number of local institutions have also opened their doors, some for free and some for a charge.