Chicago Teachers Union President Jesse Sharkey said Monday that "real progress" was made at the negotiating table over the weekend, as the teachers strike entered its third consecutive school day of canceled classes.
Sharkey told a group of picketing teachers at William Gray Elementary School in Portage Park that negotiations continued until around 10:30 p.m. Sunday night.
On Sunday evening, Chicago Public Schools preemptively canceled all classes and activities for Monday, the third school day in a row the district has done so, leaving school buildings open for students who need a safe place to stay. But Sharkey expressed some optimism that the strike could be over within a few days.
"We had some real progress over the weekend," Sharkey told teachers, adding, "although we still have a ways to go in a number of areas."
"After 10 months of telling us that they would not bargain over class size, staffing, we saw written proposals on Friday and Saturday on class size and staffing," Sharkey continued. "Now the question is trying to get those two things to a place where they're adequate."
Mayor Lori Lightfoot tweeted on Sunday that she too believed the two sides had "made progress."
"What's offered will represent a real improvement: nurses, social workers, case managers are all now in writing," Sharkey said. "Now we just want to get so we have a nurse in every school every day. Now we want to make sure that they're not leaving off making sure we've got some counselors, that other clinician services are covered, that we can get some librarians back in our buildings."
"We understand that we're going to have to compromise on that but we also understand this is the best in a generation opportunity to win important gains, so we're holding firm on some of those issues," Sharkey told the teachers.
Two areas where he said the sides had not had a breakthrough yet were on prep time and pay for paraprofessional staff as well as veteran teachers. Sharkey said that his team was looking to address paraprofessionals in particular because they are the lowest-paid workers, and the salaries of teachers whose pay he said stagnates after 20 years - a problem he contended caused a "huge" gap between veteran teachers at Chicago Public Schools and in the surrounding suburbs.
"We're not saying we're gonna fall asleep tonight in Portage Park and wake up in Winnetka; that's not what we think is gonna happen," Sharkey said. "But again, this is a chance to address it and get some real gains around that."
"I think if there was a commitment of resources and a commitment in concept, we could get an agreement in framework done quite quickly, a day or two," Sharkey said, adding that teachers would then have to read the contract offer and vote on it.
"We could end this within a couple days but there would need to be a commitment on the mayor's part to do that," Sharkey said.
Roughly 30,000 teachers and school employees from CTU and Service Employees International Union Local 73 went on strike beginning at 12 a.m. Thursday, impacting more than 300,000 students in the nation's third-largest school district.