Striking Chicago teachers press for final demand after accepting tentative deal

CHICAGO (Reuters) – A strike by Chicago teachers against the third-largest U.S. school district headed into its 11th day on Thursday after union leaders approved a tentative labor deal clinched at the bargaining table but clashed with the mayor over a final demand.

Union officials huddled behind closed doors on Wednesday to review the deal and emerged hours later to announce they had accepted it but would return to work only if the school calendar were extended to make up for instructional days and pay lost during the walkout.

The standoff left classes for 300,000 students canceled once more across the district’s 500-plus schools.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot immediately rejected the demand for makeup days, accusing the 25,000-member Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) of reneging on the contract agreement reached in negotiations earlier in the day.

“We’ve given them a historic deal by any measure,” Lightfoot said in late-night remarks live-streamed on her Twitter page. “The fact that our children aren’t back in school tomorrow is on them.”

She added: “I’m not compensating for days they were out on strike.”

Union leaders called on rank-and-file members to rally on Thursday morning to press for their outstanding demand.

“We have a tentative agreement, but we do not have a return-to-work agreement. So we will be at City Hall at 10 a.m. to demand the mayor return our days,” the union said on Twitter.

Terms of the proposed settlement were not disclosed. But some union leaders initially voiced enthusiasm for it.

“The CTU may have reached a monumental agreement,” union Vice President Stacy Davis Gates said earlier on Twitter, referring to the tentative deal.

The Chicago walkout follows a wave of teacher strikes across the country over wages and education funding during the past two years, including a week-long work stoppage in Los Angeles in January. African-Americans and Hispanics account for the majority of Chicago’s public school enrollment.

As was the case in Los Angeles, the labor dispute in Chicago centered on pay as well as teacher demands for contract language to reduce class size and increase staffing levels for support professionals, including nurses and social workers.

Any settlement is subject to approval by the union’s House of Delegates, a body consisting of 825 elected representatives from each of the city’s schools and support staff classifications, before classes can resume.

The district had said it was looking into whether it could make up more than eight school days lost during a strike, and the Chicago Board of Education would need to vote on adding any attendance days to the school calendar.

The teachers’ last contract expired July 1, and they walked off the job Oct. 17.

The union was seeking a contract that runs three years instead of five and includes more paid preparation time for elementary school teachers.

Lightfoot has said the union’s full demands, if met, would require an annual spending increase of 30% beyond the current school budget of $7.7 billion.