Chicago Teachers' Contract Struggle

November 11, 2003

Thirty-three thousand (33,000) Chicago teachers and other school employees are locked in a sharp contract struggle with the Board of Education.

The Board's last contract offer includes a number givebacks and adds up to a cut in real wages. With the inflation rate currently running at 3.6% per year the Board has proposed a 5-year contract with a nominal wage increase of 4% per year. The Board is also demanding that teachers pay more in health care co-premiums and co-payments and work an additional 3 days per year.

The teachers are resisting these givebacks and fighting for a decent raise. Over the last 8 years, school employees have received little or no raises and keep falling further behind inflation. As a result, the yearly salaries of Chicago teachers are several thousand dollars less than teachers in many other big cities as well as in local suburban districts. (For example, the salary range of Chicago teachers averages $7,000-$9,000/year less than Los Angeles, $5,000-$18,000/year less than New York, and $3,000-$35,000 less than Deerfield). Teacher aides and other educational staff in Chicago do not even come close to making a living wage (an aide with 10 years experience is paid only $21,000/year).

For Increased Investment in the Schools

Teachers are also demanding that the Board increase investments in the schools in order to guarantee students all the conditions necessary to receive a modern education.

Across the city, school buildings are overcrowded to the point where many classes are literally held in closets and hallways. Legally mandated instruction, including special education, ESL, etc., is denied students because of lack of staff and facilities. While the federal government officially recommends elementary school class sizes of no more than 18 and, while the teachers' current contract limits elementary class size to 28, classes typically include 30-35 students and in many cases even more. Amongst other demands, teachers are insisting on reductions in class size and mandatory, enforceable caps on class size; teachers also need and are demanding at least one preparation period/day.

In the course of their struggle, the teachers are confronting and overcoming many obstacles. Earlier this year, the Board of Education arbitrarily insisted on ending negotiations, repeating government's tired refrain that it had "no money." At the same time, the big business media has tried to turn public opinion against the teachers, insisting that in "these hard economic times" teachers should just accept their fate. Even the local union leadership turned to scarce tactics, trying to force teachers to accept the concessions contract.

But the teachers are not intimidated. They are resisting the concessions contract. They are organizing local meetings at schools across the city and networking amongst themselves to discuss their conditions, stick by their demands and strengthen their unity. In the House of Delegates and a citywide vote in which nearly all union members participated, the teachers overwhelming rejected the Board's "final offer," and forced the Board back to the negotiating table. Most recently the union's House of Delegates passed a strike authorization further strengthening the teachers' hand in negotiations.

The teachers are determined to win a decent contract with no givebacks, a real wage increase and improved working and teaching conditions which benefit all the children of Chicago.

The teachers deserve the support of all the working people.