Thousands of Chicago teachers go on strike after failing to reach contract deal

"There is a pent up frustration," the Chicago Teachers Union president said.

Thousands of Chicago Public School teachers went on strike Thursday, fighting for working conditions "that respect educators and provide Chicago’s students with the schools they deserve."

The strike follows months of failed negotiations between teachers and the city's public school system.

Teachers marched through the streets of downtown Chicago after hours of picket lines, which began at 6:30 a.m. at each of the city's public schools.

"This is a show of our power but we also know that it's not just our fight, it's a fight for our community, our neighborhood," teacher Joshua Lerner told ABC Chicago station WLS-TV.

Teachers are fighting for smaller class sizes, adequate staffing and better wages, according to the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU), which represents some 25,000 teachers and education workers.

Some of those working for the district earn less than $30,000 a year and more than 1,100 can't afford to rent a two-bedroom apartment in any of the city's zip codes, the union noted.

CTU and Chicago Public Schools (CPS) began negotiating a new contract on Jan. 15, months ahead of the union's contract expiring on June 30.

CPS has said that it offered improvements to the "already historic offer we'd previously made," but CTU rejected the proposal.

"All in all, our offer includes over 80 changes to the collective bargaining agreement on issues requested by the union," according to a joint statement from Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Dr. Janice Jackson, CEO of CPS, last Friday. "We have bent over backwards to meet CTU’s concerns."

Teachers feel differently.

"There is a pent up frustration from our membership about what conditions are like in our schools," CTU President Jesse Sharkey said at a press conference Thursday.

Andrea Parker, a CPS teacher, told WLS-TV that while she's disappointed she won't be teaching, she feels like she and her colleagues "are only the few fighting for our students."

Classes were canceled for all 514 schools in the nation's third largest district until further notice. More than 300,000 students were enrolled in the city's public school system in the 2018-2019 school year.

More than 1,300 classrooms are overcrowded, according to CTU, despite the district's cap. Almost 25% of elementary school students were placed in overcrowded classrooms, with some kindergarten classrooms topping 40 students, according to the union.

Lightfoot and Jackson said they would offer additional support for overcrowded classrooms. They also said they would raise teachers' salaries by 16%, or around $19,000.

The union said that under the mayor's proposed contract, "most of those workers would still be earning poverty wages."

The American Federation of Teachers, one of the largest teacher's labor unions in the country, tweeted in support of Chicago teachers.

"Our educators are on a righteous path, fighting for what is right," the tweet read. "It’s time we gave them what they need to teach."