Chicago Teachers Union Plans Strike Over School Reopening

Chicago teachers strike in 2019 / Getty Images
January 27, 2021

The Chicago Teachers Union is planning to strike following failed negotiations over in-person learning.

On Monday, elementary and middle-school teachers across the Chicago Public School district refused to return to the classroom for in-person work after the Chicago Teachers Union voted to defy the district's plan to reopen schools. The district subsequently pushed back the start date to Wednesday in hopes of reaching an agreement with the union, though negotiations ultimately failed. The Chicago Teachers Union said that if the district "retaliates," teachers should strike.

"So it's come to this," the union wrote in a members-only email. "Short of some late-breaking change, all members will begin working remotely tomorrow, Wednesday, January 27. And if CPS retaliates against members for exercising their right to a safe workplace, all members will stop working on Thursday and set up picket lines at their schools."

The union also released a dance video from six teachers who used "their art as a voice to express their desire to feel safe amidst CPS' teacher return policy."

Despite more than 50 meetings, in-person learning negotiations between the union and Chicago city officials have stalled. The union has nixed every school-reopening plan to date and has gone so far as to call the reopening of schools sexist, racist, and misogynistic. Similar strategies are being deployed by teachers' unions across the nation, including in Washington, where the president of the Pasco Association of Educators claimed that reopening schools was a form of "white supremacy."

The union also has support from the Biden administration. In an interview with CNN's Erin Burnett, Ron Klain, Biden's chief of staff, said he agrees with the union that schools are unsafe to open until more money is spent on safety precautions. When asked specifically about the Chicago Teachers Union, Klain said that schools "haven't made the investments to keep the students safe," even though the district and city of Chicago have spent more than $100 million on masks, personal protective equipment, and other safety measures.

Hours before the Klain interview, the Biden administration hosted a press conference to announce an executive order on "racial equity." But studies show that school closures have exacerbated racial inequality. The Chicago Public School district noted as much in a statement.

"We've seen grades, attendance, and enrollment drop significantly for many of our students in recent months, and the impact has been felt most by our Black and Latinx students," the district said.

On Wednesday morning, the Chicago Principals & Administrators Association released a plan to reopen schools in the coming weeks. The solution includes opening 75 schools for small-group learning, prioritizing COVID-19 vaccinations for the staff in those groups, and expanding the groups every three to four weeks as more teachers are vaccinated.

It is unclear whether the Chicago Teachers Union or Chicago Public Schools will sign on to these agreements. Neither responded to requests for comment.