Mayor Lori Lightfoot speaks during a news conference at Chicago City Hall on Wednesday, Oct. 16, 2019. Lightfoot said classes would be canceled Thursday after determining that she can't accept the Chicago Teachers Union's demands, which she says would cost the city $2.5 billion it can't afford. Talks are expected to continue Wednesday. (Jose M. Osorio/Chicago Tribune via AP)

Classes canceled as threat of Chicago teacher strike looms

October 16, 2019 - 11:19 am

CHICAGO (AP) — Chicago's mayor announced on Wednesday that the city's public schools will be shut down on Thursday, ahead of an expected teachers' strike. 

Mayor Lori Lightfoot said during a news conference that the district's 25,000 teachers represented by the Chicago Teachers Union would almost certainly walk out on Thursday based on union leaders' reaction to bargaining talks this week.

"Without question, the deal we put on the table is the best in the Chicago Teachers union history," said Lightfoot. "Despite all this, the Chicago Teachers Union intends to forge ahead with a strike."

A clearly frustrated Lightfoot said the city has not only offered a 16% pay raise over the 5-year contract, but the city has also agreed to put language in the contract that addresses "enforceable targets" on class size and increasing staffing levels for positions such as nurses, librarians and social workers — items the union said were critical.

But she said the price tag for the city to meet the union demands would be about $2.5 billion, which the city cannot afford to pay.

Lightfoot said the city has agreed to make substantial changes that the union has demanded, but said the union responds by issuing additional demands, some of which are unacceptable.

"The union is still demanding to shorten instructional time by 30 minutes in the morning," she said. "We won't do that. We will not cheat our children out of instructional time."

Chicago Public Schools CEO Janice Jackson says sports teams' practices, field trips, tutoring and other activities also will be canceled.

The press conference came just hours after the union issued a press release Tuesday night saying the bargaining team will recommend that the union's House of Delegates "vote Wednesday to go forward with a strike."

The union disputed Lightfoot's characterization of the city's willingness to concede to the union demands on several issues, including class sizes.

According to the union press release, "Sticking points also include the union's call for hard caps on class sizes ... CPS' current class size offer falls far short of what's needed to address the sweeping scale of the problem."

Before heading into a downtown law firm for bargaining talks Wednesday morning, union vice president Stacy Davis Gates said there is a "gross disconnect" between Lightfoot's comments and what negotiators have put in writing.

"To say that you have offered a proposal that respects what we are asking for, to say you've bent over backward .... it's absolutely ridiculous," Davis Gates said.

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