It’s no secret that teachers of public schools are often forced to work in less-than-ideal conditions due to school systems’ financial burdens, overcrowding, and other issues. However, tired of being overworked and underpaid, teachers in Chicago recently fought back against these and other injustices they face on a day-to-day basis.
On October 17, 2019, Chicago public school teachers went on strike, demanding “smaller class sizes, more support staff, higher raises, and more school funding.” After the 11 day strike, teachers and City Hall came to a labor agreement, and students were able to resume learning on November 1, 2019. This strike impacted over 300,000 kids attending public schools in the city.
Striking for better pay and conditions for teachers and students alike, over 30,000 workers walked out of schools across Chicago. The strike lasted for 11 days, in which students were not able to attend school, and finally ended with a deal between the Chicago Teachers Union and the Chicago Public Schools. The city agreed to spend $35 million to reduce class sizes, promised to pay for more social workers, nurses, and librarians, and guaranteed a salary increase.
Though they agreed to the terms, these additions still aren’t enough for the CTU. Jesse Sharkey, the president of the CTU, says, “Frankly, our members are still out there on picket lines. They don’t need to see me smiling with the mayor when, in fact, what they need to see is we have a tentative agreement, we have a return to work agreement.” For this reason, he declined to announce the strike’s end with the mayor of Chicago.
Strikes are an important part of our labor rights as Americans. They date back to the 1800s when organizations, such as the Knights of Labor and American Federation of Labor, tackled issues in the workplace. Yet, though constitutional, is it fair to strike when you are in a position when your absence significantly affects the lives of thousands of children? I’m not so sure it is.
When the Chicago teachers went on strike, thousands of students were negatively affected. According to Mayor Lori Lightfoot of Chicago, “…there’s a lot of harm that has been done to our young people.” I understand the reasons behind the strike, but did those outweigh the reasons for teachers to continue with their jobs? The ultimate purpose of a teacher is to better students; they teach, nurture, and prepare them for their futures. Missing a week of school for a protest might not seem like a lot to some, but for the students who were displaced by this event, it has more of an impact.
As a student myself, I cannot begin to imagine how I would feel if my teachers went on strike. At first, I would likely be proud of them, in a sense, for sticking up for what they believe in and fighting for what they deserve. However, after missing a full week of school, which I would be responsible for making up, I might feel somewhat unimportant (like an afterthought). My education, my life, and part of my summer were sacrificed for a strike, of which I wasn’t a part. Is that fair? Is it fair for me, my parents, and my friends to alter our daily lives for my teachers’ strike? Could there have been another way for them to get what they desired?
This post was written by one of U4SC’s Educators 4SC Research Assistants, Samantha.[Image Attribute: Ishmael Daro]