Thousands of Chicago Teachers Union members and their supporters, as well as other labor and community allies, attended a downtown rally on April 1, 2016. Credit: Photo by Stacey Rupolo

Thousands of Chicago Teachers Union members took to the streets today for a one-day strike that sought to connect the financial troubles at Chicago Public Schools with the broader impacts of the state-wide budget impasse on low-income families, particularly in regards to higher education.

The strike — which CPS officials have asked a state labor board to declare illegal — effectively shut down the school system, forcing parents to find alternative care for their children for the second Friday in a row. A week ago the cash-strapped district cancelled school in order to furlough workers and save money.

CTU leaders framed the day’s action as a citywide movement representing a range of groups impacted by the lack of a state budget — from teachers and college professors to juveniles in detention centers and child care workers. The union is calling for sustainable revenue sources for public services.

District and state leaders criticized the union for causing the cancellation of classes for some 340,000 students. (Students at charters schools, whose workers are not CTU members, were not impacted.) Later in the afternoon, CPS officials filed a charge with the state’s educational labor relations board seeking an injunction against any future strikes of this nature.

Some delegates said they see today’s strike as good preparation for a potential contract strike, which could take place as early as late May. Contract negotiations are ongoing. Both sides made presentations of evidence to a neutral third-party, fact-finder last week and district officials say the next bargaining session takes place on Monday.

Catalyst reporters Kalyn Belsha and Melissa Sanchez, as well as reporting interns Stephanie Choporis and Caroline Spiezio, visited a number of schools this morning and rallies across the city throughout the day to document the day’s events. Below are some of the highlights and photos.

5 p.m. — CTU President Karen Lewis takes the stage at a rally outside the Thompson Center. She blames Gov. Bruce Rauner for holding state funding “hostage,” calls for higher wages for workers and presses for unity as she speaks to a crowd of thousands.

Many demonstrators wore ponchos or carried umbrellas to stave off the rain.
Many demonstrators wore ponchos or carried umbrellas to stave off the rain.

“This is what happens when we come together and stop fighting each other and know who our enemies are,” she said, adding later, “Instead of somebody telling us why we shouldn’t be in the streets, we should take the streets.”

Soon after the speeches, demonstrators marched down Clark Street toward the Chicago River — many wearing red ponchos or carrying umbrellas to stave off the rain.

— Melissa Sanchez

4:15 p.m. — Hundreds of CTU members and their supporters, as well as other labor allies, start coming into downtown for a rally at the Thompson Center.

Steven Gillespie walking toward Thompson Center
Steven Gillespie walking toward the Thompson Center.

Steven Gillespie, a home health care worker and member of SEIU Healthcare Illinois, says he hopes to bring attention to the need for a higher minimum wage for working-class people. “Do you know that in New York City the minimum wage is $15 per hour?” he asks. “Why can’t Chicago be like that?”

While CTU members appeared to make up the bulk of rally-goers, members from several other organizations also turned out, including SEIU, the Amalgamated Transit Union, faculty unions from several state universities, the Black Youth Project 100 and the Fight For 15 campaign.

— Melissa Sanchez

3:30 p.m. — The CTU issued a brief statement to respond to news that the district had filed a charge with the state’s educational labor board alleging that the union’s one-day strike is illegal.

“We disagree,” writes CTU spokeswoman Stephanie Gadlin. “The Supreme Court 60 years ago authorized unfair labor practice strikes under the National Labor Relations Action and we believe teachers have those rights. … Their charges were filed after the fact and they seek to enjoin us from doing something [we] have no intention of doing again.”

In the district’s charging documents, CPS labor attorney James Franczek writes that the federal labor law only applies to private-sector workers. Teachers in Illinois, he argues, can strike only after a lengthy process outlined in the state’s education labor law is completed.

— Melissa Sanchez

3:10 p.m. — As expected, CPS officials filed a charge with the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board against the CTU, arguing that the strike is illegal. The union “is defiantly shutting down over 500 district-run schools in the City of Chicago and depriving nearly 340,000 children of a day of education simply because it can,” attorneys write in the charging documents. “The CTU has no legal justification for such blatantly illegal conduct.”

Fiske Principal Cynthia Miller speaking at press conference with CEO Forrest Claypool and Chief Education Office Janice Jackson.
Fiske Principal Cynthia Miller speaking at the press conference with CEO Forrest Claypool and Chief Education Officer Janice Jackson.

During a press conference at Fiske Elementary, CPS CEO Forrest Claypool said the district wants to prevent the union from holding any future “illegal” strikes (the union maintains it’s within its right).

“We think it’s important that it be clearly established that whether children are in school and being educated is not subject to the whims of the Chicago Teachers Union leadership,” Claypool said.

He said today’s charge filed with the labor board also demands that the CTU reimburse the district for all expenses related to maintaining the 250 contingency sites that were open during regular school hours. District officials are still tallying how much they think the union owes.

In the charging documents, the district attorneys also call out the union out for flip-flopping on the purported reasoning for the strike: “Some days the CTU states that it is not about CPS at all, but about the State and its lack of funding for social services and higher education. Other days it claims the strike is about CPS funding, but not about the ‘contract.’ Then there are other days where the CTU characterizes this one-day strike as an unfair labor practice strike.”’

Despite his criticism of the union’s strike, Claypool reiterated his desire to reach a labor agreement and said both sides will be back at the bargaining table on Monday.

In total, between 7,000 and 8,000 students spent the day at a contingency site, Claypool said. Ten students were at Fiske, according to Principal Cynthia Miller, who called it a “drama-free” day.

— Melissa Sanchez and Kalyn Belsha

2:30 p.m. — Dozens of protesters rallied against the “school-to-prison pipeline,” with Mariame Kaba, the founder of the advocacy group Project NIA, leading a march from Illinois Youth Center on the Near West Side to Suder Elementary School. Protesters carried signs and sang chants including: “We are gonna give you hell, our city is not yours to sell.”

According to Kaba, Chicago spends more than $112,000 a year per youth in prison but only $15,000 per youth in school. Several youth activists took the stage at Suder Elementary, asking state lawmakers to “fund our schools, not our jails.”

— Caroline Spiezio

1:30 p.m. — Hundreds of educators, students and others rallied Friday afternoon at Chicago State University, the embattled public university in Roseland that’s preparing for massive layoffs in the wake of a financial emergency brought on by the state’s budget impasse.

CSU students drew attention to the school’s history of providing opportunities to students of color. CSU senior Darren Martin said it would be hard to find another university that has a resource center for African-American males, a president who talks with students one-on-one and a diverse faculty “who looks like you.”

Hundreds of teachers, professors and students rallied at Chicago State University.
Hundreds of teachers, professors and students rallied at Chicago State University.

Another CSU senior, Charles Preston, who lives in Roseland, said he felt “righteous anger” when he read the headlines that said staff and students were being asked to turn in their keys. “We must hold our political officials accountable,” he said, encouraging the various groups present to politically organize together.

CTU President Karen Lewis, who received her teaching credentials at CSU, also called on groups affected by lack of funding to band together. When Gov. Bruce Rauner was elected, she said, people underestimated his “anti-union animus.”

“It’s not just us,” she said. “This is not a moment. Brothers and sisters, this is a movement.”

— Kalyn Belsha

Tim Lacey and his 8-year-old daughter, Lily, just after the student rally.
Tim Lacey and his 8-year-old daughter, Lily, just after the student rally.

12 p.m. — About 30 CPS students and parents convened at the Thompson Center for another rally to urge city and state officials to provide adequate funding to schools. The small rally had a similar vibe to student protests last fall — and many of the same faces. But the number of participants was noticeably smaller.

The group marched over to CPS headquarters before heading to the 5th floor of City Hall, where Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s offices are located.

“I hope that Rahm and Rauner open their eyes, which I really doubt they will, but they need to understand our struggle,” says Kelly High School senior Evelyn Solis, who mentioned how Kelly’s after-school programs have faced many cuts. Recent Kelly alum Ivan Monter added that the school’s fine arts program has also suffered.

“We don’t know where this money is going,” he says. “It could have gone to giving instruments, it could have gone to fixing our stage.”

Similarly, CPS parent Tim Lacey says he’s “sick” of how difficult it is to get basic supplies, like copier paper and pencils, at Waters Elementary, a North Side school attended by his second-grade daughter Lily. “It’s a struggle there, and I can’t imagine what it’s like in other parts of the city,” he says.

— Stephanie Choporis

12 p.m. — Meanwhile, the Illinois attorney general says that the state can’t interfere in the Chicago Board of Education’s attempts to incur more debt, nor can it require CPS to submit or adopt specific financial plans. In an opinion issued on Thursday, Attorney General Lisa Madigan writes that state law does not require that the Board “seek approval of a financial plan from the State Board before it can issue bonds or any other evidence of indebtedness, such as establishing a line of credit.”

The legal opinion is a blow to Gov. Bruce Rauner, who is lobbying for a state takeover of CPS and the option to declare bankruptcy.

— Melissa Sanchez


11:45 a.m. — Following a New Orleans-style funeral march through Albany Park to “mourn the death” of public education, hundreds gathered at Northeastern Illinois University, including a contingent of CTU members and supporters from Von Steuben and Roosevelt high schools.

American Federation of  Teachers President Randi Weingarten spoke against Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner, saying he is “holding this state hostage.”

— Caroline Spiezio

11 a.m. — There’s about 23 children listening to Frank Sinatra sing “My Kind of Town” while watching images of Chicago and New York City flash by on a giant screen inside the gym of Skinner West Elementary School, a contingency site for children who have no place else to go as a result of school cancellations today.

The students in the gym represent a fraction of the 1,153 enrolled at the school, and Principal Deborah Clark says those children’s parents luckily “were able to have other options.” Clark stayed up late Thursday night to develop a schedule that started off this morning with patriotic music, dancing and other physical activities, before moving onto academic work on computers. The students also will get to play board games and go to recess later in the afternoon, in addition to watching a movie of their choice.

There seems to be more staff in the gym than students. Clark says non-CTU members, such as special education classroom aides and security guards, are among those staffing the school today, in addition to some help from Central Office and another nearby school. Some of the aides in the gym are members of SEIU Local 73 and are sporting CTU shirts or wearing red in solidarity with the striking teachers.

— Melissa Sanchez

mobile-CSU-teach-in-staceyrupolo11 a.m. — Black Youth Project 100 holds a teach-in at Chicago State University, which has threatened massive layoffs and faces a possible closure due to the state budget impasse.

— Stacey Rupolo

10:45 a.m. — Gov. Bruce Rauner’s office releases a statement on the CTU strike. Here it is in its entirety:

“It’s shameful that Chicago’s children are the victims in this raw display of political power.  Walking out on kids in the classroom, leaving parents in the lurch and thumbing their nose at taxpayers — it’s the height of arrogance from those we’ve entrusted with our children’s futures.  By breaking the law in Chicago and forcing passage of a bad law in Springfield, powerful bosses are proving they have an unfair advantage over Illinois families.  When we lose the balance between taxpayers and special interests, property taxes go up and the quality of education goes down.

“I stand ready to work with members of the General Assembly to pass a budget that increases state support for all Illinois schools alongside much-needed reforms that put taxpayers back in control of their local governments and school districts. If local control reforms had already been enacted, CPS negotiations likely would have been concluded by now, a strike would have been averted and taxpayers and children would have been protected. Let’s pass real reforms to give the families of Illinois a better future.”

— Melissa Sanchez

10 a.m.  At Beasley Elementary, second-grade teacher and school delegate Joyce Jefferson says she’s striking for sustainable revenue for schools and to decrease the amount of standardized testing. The magnet school in Washington Park, which was one of CTU President Karen Lewis’ stops, saw turnout from about 95 percent of educators, delegates said.

Eighth-grader Alyssa Sanders (left) and physical education teacher Gloria Fallon, at Beasley Elementary.
Eighth-grader Alyssa Sanders (left) and physical education teacher Gloria Fallon at Beasley Elementary.

Physical education teacher Gloria Fallon, also a delegate, says she hopes today’s strike will give the union strength as it prepares to go back to negotiating.  “It shows that we’re united and we’re ready to fight,” she says.

— Kalyn Belsha

9:30 am — The Roosevelt High School contingent has gone on to pick up more teachers and supporters from Von Steuben and other nearby schools. The groups met at a McDonald’s parking lot, where the educators showed support for a walkout by fast-food workers who are campaigning for a $15 minimum

Roosevelt CTU delegate Tim Meegan, who has taught at the school for 12 years, said today’s strike is less about the union’s own contract negotiations, but about calling attention to the decreased funding from the state, citing holes in his classroom floor and more than a dozen layoffs in his building as evidence.

The march moves on to nearby Northeastern Illinois University, which many Roosevelt graduates attend. The university has been hit hard by the state budget impasse, and in particular the state’s nonpayment of need-based MAP grants.

“How can they judge my high school on how many students we send to college if they are defunding the colleges they go to?” Meegan asks.

— Caroline Spiezio.

9:15 a.m.  CTU President Karen Lewis visited King College Prep in Kenwood, where she used to be teacher. “This is my home, it’s great to see all my colleagues,” she said after embracing several of the educators.

While she didn’t deliver prepared remarks, Lewis took two questions from the media, saying she thought the strike was going well. When asked about schools with low turnout for the strike, Lewis replied: “That shows me they’re tired. It’s been a long year… And that’s all right.”

CTU President Karen Lewis speaks with former colleagues at King College Prep.
CTU President Karen Lewis speaks with former colleagues at King College Prep.

King delegate Jim Staros, who’s taught at the school for 13 years and used to work with Lewis, said for him the strike is about getting funding for art, music and “wraparound” supports for students. Since last year his school has lost three counselors and a librarian due to budget cuts, he said, and they don’t have money for subs, which makes field trips nearly impossible.  He hopes lawmakers in Springfield hear teachers’ message — and rethink the income tax rollback that kicked in last year.

— Kalyn Belsha

8:45 a.m. — One fact we haven’t noted today is that Chicago’s charter schools are open, as teachers there aren’t part of the CTU and therefore aren’t on strike. (Members of the Chicago Alliance of Charter Teachers and Staff will likely join some of the CTU rallies in the afternoon, but aren’t planning their own strikes.)

School was in session as usual at Noble's ITW Speer Academy, a charter high school.
School was in session as usual at Noble’s ITW Speer Academy, a charter high school.

The Illinois Network of Charter Schools issued a press release early this morning criticizing the CTU for being “first and foremost a political organization that willingly sacrifices the needs of Chicago’s children and families for their political agenda.”

In a statement, INCS President Andrew Broy goes on to say that “at a time when all interested parties should be united in fixing a student funding formula that penalizes low-wealth school districts, the CTU prefers to wage war against city leadership in a display of faux progressivism.”

— Melissa Sanchez

8:15 a.m. — Erika Mendez, a mother of two students at Prieto Math and Science Academy in Belmont Cragin, walks alongside her children’s teachers as they picket. The school is one of 250 contingency sites designated by CPS officials, where parents can drop off their children for the day, but Mendez chose to spend her morning on the picket line because “it’s right what they’re doing.”

Prieto parent Erika Mendez and her two children
Prieto parent Erika Mendez and her two children.

Mendez is a student at Wright College and wants to become a teacher one day herself, so she says it makes sense to support the work and needs of teachers at Prieto. “If anything they deserve to get paid more because they’re educating our children, and that’s the most important thing.”

Andrew Friesema, a math and science coordinator at the school, says “kids in neighborhoods like Belmont Cragin have been underserved for a long time.” He says the school has lost several positions, including some in special education, as a result of this year’s budget cuts.  And even though the school was built in recent years to relieve overcrowding in nearby schools, it’s already full to the brim, with some classes taught in modular units.

Still, Friesema considers Prieto a good, well-organized school, and says “all students deserve a neighborhood school like Prieto.”

— Melissa Sanchez

8 a.m. — Groups of teachers, students and parents of Taft High School on the city’s Northwest Side huddled along expressway bridges this morning, holding mass-produced “On Strike” signs and cheering as honking cars drove past.

Taft has 217 union members and eight staffers in the CTU’s House of Delegates, says Danny VanOver, a teacher at the school for 23 years who serves as a delegate. VanOver says Taft didn’t hold a vote on today’s strike, since roughly 98 percent of faculty voted in favor of a strike back in December. While he acknowledges a “good turnout,” he says there were some teachers who were not in favor of the walkout.

Due to Taft’s growing enrollment, he says the school has fared better than others regarding budget cuts. But he says “it’s not going to last forever.”

Also a member of the CTU’s so-called “big bargaining team,” VanOver says contract negotiations have gone “nowhere” since the union rejected CPS’ contract offer on Feb. 1. If today’s strike has any impact, he hopes it will “jump start” these conversations.

— Stephanie Choporis

8 a.m. — Outside Mollison Elementary School in Bronzeville, cars and buses honked their horns in support of the picketing educators, who were joined by parents and community activists. Delegate Erin Lynch says teachers were on board with the union’s one-day strike from the beginning — educators voted unanimously in support of the walkout. Lynch said the former welcoming school is struggling with overcrowding after it merged with a nearby closed school. Teachers want resources for library services, social-emotional supports and additional aides.

Shelagh Jackson pickets outside Mollison Elementary School in Bronzeville.
Shelagh Jackson pickets outside Mollison Elementary School in Bronzeville.

Shelagh Jackson, the school’s International Baccalaureate coordinator, says space is so tight that it’s difficult to find room for interventions, fine arts and Spanish instruction. For her, the strike is about equity. “It’s about maintaining public education,” she says. “I think the game-playing and the politics are hurting the children.”

Parent Jeanette Taylor, who has a 5th- and 8th-grader at Mollison and was one of the hunger strikers who protested for the reopening of Dyett High School, came out in support of the strike. “This is just the beginning of people standing up and staying ‘enough is enough,'” she says.

— Kalyn Belsha

Teachers at Edgebrook Elementary

7 a.m. – There’s nearly two-dozen teachers at Edgebrook Elementary gathered in front of the school to take a photo to send to the union.

“No comment,” says delegate Caroline Delia when asked what she thinks about being here. But she adds, “We support our union … We want fair funding for our schools.”

— Melissa Sanchez

6:45 a.m. — About 40 teachers, parents, and local residents drink coffee to stay warm as they stand outside Avondale-Logandale Middle School to support the one-day strike.

The group went on to picket around the school until 9:30 a.m. before heading to Northeastern Illinois University. “I’d rather be at work today,” one of the teachers says later. “But we all have to show solidarity with the union.”

—Michelle Kanaar

Fast food workers join teachers and their supporters at Roosevelt High School for one-day CTU strike.
Fast food workers join teachers and their supporters at Roosevelt High School for one-day CTU strike.

6:30 a.m. — Social Studies teacher Jim McIntosh was one of dozens of CTU members who gathered outside of Roosevelt High School before sunrise to protest budget cuts.

Joined by local fast food, transit, and nursing home workers calling for a higher minimum wage and supporters from as far as Brazil and South Korea, McIntosh said “this isn’t about teachers and paychecks,” but equality in state funding. “We keep hearing that there’s no money, but somehow they always manage to find funding for things that don’t actually help students, like PARCC,” he said.

CTU Vice President Jesse Sharkey spoke to the crowd, as did Roosevelt students who called for action against growing class sizes and shrinking resources. “We deserve better,” said junior Danely Quiroz.

— Caroline Spiezio

5 a.m. – The Chicago Teachers Union’s one-day strike kicks off at 6:30 a.m. today, April 1, with educators picketing schools across the district. Union officials are scheduled to speak at select schools, including Roosevelt High School where McDonald’s employees are also planning a walkout.

The union — which has sought to tie its walkout to a bigger push for more state revenue for public education and social service agencies following a state budget impasse — says it’s striking over what it sees as an unfair labor practice: the end to steps-and-lanes salary increases for additional experience and educational attainment that went into effect last fall.

The CTU says this is allowable under a 1956 U.S. Supreme Court decision, but the district contends it’s an illegal strike.  (Eventually the district may bring its case to the state educational labor relations board or a state court.) CPS officials say they won’t penalize educators who participate — although union leaders say members who cross the picket line might have to pay fines.

Later in the day, there will be rallies and marches at Northeastern Illinois University — where American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten is supposed to speak at a teach-in — as well as at Chicago State University and the University of Illinois at Chicago. In addition, CTU members will hold protests alongside workers from the closing Nabisco plant on the Southwest Side and activists at a juvenile detention center.

By 4 p.m., CTU members will be rallying downtown outside the Thompson Center, where a protest march is set to last until 6:30 p.m.

For an overview of why the CTU is striking and the steps that led to stalled contract negotiations, view our interactive timeline.

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