Sanders, Warren Back Chicago Teachers Union Amid Contract Negotiations

The Chicago Teachers Union has received the backing of two big-name supporters - Democratic presidential candidates Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren - as the clock ticks closer to a potential teachers strike.

Sanders was scheduled to join a labor rally for CTU and the Service Employees International Union Local 73 at 7 p.m. CST on Tuesday at CTU's headquarters in the city's West Town neighborhood.

"I stand with the educators and support staff of @CTULocal1 and @SEIU73 in their fight for the schools Chicago's students deserve," Sanders tweeted on Sept. 13, adding, "It's unconscionable for wealthy corporations to receive massive tax breaks while children go without school nurses and librarians."

For her part, Warren also expressed support for the union in a tweet, posting on Sunday, "I stand shoulder to shoulder with the Chicago teachers making their voices heard to demand living wages, smaller class sizes, and all the things teachers need to do their jobs well."

"America's teachers take on powerful work every day, and we must treat them with respect," she added.

The messages of support from Warren and Sanders came amid ongoing contract negotiations between city officials and CTU.

Rank-and-file members will cast their ballots in a strike authorization vote Tuesday through Thursday, according to the union. Per state law, if the vote passes with more than 75%, the union can strike - with a walk-out happening as early as Oct. 7. In 2012, nearly 90% of teachers voted to strike - the first in Chicago in more than 20 years.

As to where the negotiations stand, both Mayor Lori Lightfoot and CTU President Jesse Sharkey addressed the situation Friday.

"What I have said to President Sharkey is I stand committed to throw as many resources as possible at the negotiating process," Lightfoot said at an unrelated news conference.

"We should be negotiating every single day. We should be negotiating multiple times a day. A deal is within our reach but we need partners on the other side of the table."

Lightfoot said that the deal most recently offered by the district would put CPS "at one of the top paid teachers unions in the country, not just in Illinois," adding that the city needed the union to respond.

Sharkey took issue with Lightfoot's rhetoric Friday, holding a news conference to respond to her remarks.

"The mayor said that she is frustrated by the slow pace of negotiations - so are we," Sharkey said. "We've been frustrated for years about the poor conditions in our schools. We are asking the table for the mayor to make good on her campaign promises and to make provisions in our contract which improve the conditions in our schools."

Sharkey said the union was asking for improvements on areas related to class size, staffing shortages, and provisions related to safety and security of students in areas surrounding their schools.

"Those things are not too much to ask. The resources are there; the political climate is there to achieve those demands at the table," Sharkey said. "So far, the lack of progress is not about the insufficient resources at the bargaining table. We stand committed to bargain as much as it requires to get a deal."

"It's not about resources at the bargaining table," he reiterated. "This is about resources that go into the schools."

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