Chicago Teachers Wage Contract Struggle

October 26, 2003

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

The Board is demanding givebacks, including shifting a greater burden of health costs onto the workers and increasing the length of the school day without a commensurate increase in pay. The Board also wants to lock the teachers into a 5-year contract calling for only a 4% raise/year; when the health care givebacks, lengthened work day and rising cost-of-living are factored in, 4% amounts to a sizeable wage cut.

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. Teacher aides in Chicago do not even come close to making a living wage.

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 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 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.

In the course of the 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 scare tactics, trying to force teachers to accept the concessions contract.

But the teachers are not intimidated. They are resisting the concessions contract and refusing to let others dictate the terms of their struggle. Teachers are taking matters into their own hands by initiating local meetings at schools across the city and networking amongst themselves. Through these forums, as well as citywide meetings and in their union's House of Delegates, teachers are speaking out about their conditions, sticking by their demands and strengthening their unity.

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.