With children home from school during a strike, schedules messed up and parents struggling to cover care, it can be easy to point fingers at teachers as the ones throwing things off balance. But the reasons behind teacher walkouts are complex and varied, and with Chicago Public Schools (CPS) in the headlines right now, it's important to keep these facts about teachers strikes in mind.
Currently, teachers in Chicago are in the midst of a massive strike. In total, about 32,000 CPS teachers and their support staff are on strike, according to NPR. This is the third time that teachers in the city have walked out since 2011, underlining the need for change and communication between schools and government officials, PBS affiliate WTTW reported. The most recent strike follows the expiration of the Chicago Public Schools teachers’ most recent contract earlier this year. Teachers explained at the time that if a new contract wasn't reached by Oct. 17, they were going on strike. A deal was never struck and the teachers went on strike — they're now entering day nine.
It's easy to think the issues that led to this are simply related to money, and finances are a big factor, but as one CPS teacher, who's participating in her third strike and spoke on the condition of anonymity, tells Romper, it's more complex. "It's not just about the money," she says, "it's about resourcing all of the schools in an equitable way — improving teaching, working, and learning conditions."
It's Not All About Money
While teachers in America are grossly underpaid, that is not the only reason that they are up in arms for change. Along with pay raises, issues like class size, infrastructure, student services and support, and program funding fuel strikes as well.
For example, in Chicago, teachers are asking for serious change and investment in the Chicago public education system, according to Vox. They're asking for more affordable housing in the city for students and teachers due to the large number of poor families in the city. Additionally, they want smaller class sizes and more staff written into the new contract.
“We mean business,” Stacey Davis Gates, vice president of the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU), said at a press conference last week. “It cannot be about politics and personalities. It’s got to be about shifting and transforming the infrastructure of inequity.”
Teachers Are Losing Pay
While teachers stand on the picket lines during strikes, they are losing pay, which can obviously be difficult to manage but should help communicate how serious the underlying issues behind the strikes are. As David Belanger, a principal at Hanson Park Elementary School, told WTTW, "most teachers are not independently wealthy and missing a week’s pay is really going to put a financial bind on a lot of families."
According to the Chicago Tribune, CPS teachers received their "last full paycheck for work done before the strike" last week, but their next check will only include pay for "just three school days of work."
Students Don't Always Get To Make Up Missed Days
When students miss class during a teacher strike, it isn't always a given that they will have makeup days. In Chicago, the schools reportedly plan to keep the schools open with the help of school administrators, non-union workers, and “community partners” during strikes, but the city's mayor Lori Lightfoot told reporters that there is “zero plan” to make up for lost class days, according to the Chicago Sun-Times.
“I think we have a good plan in place to make sure our kids have a safe, healthy place to go in the event of a work stoppage,” Lightfoot said at a City Hall press conference earlier this month. “There’s no plan to make up any days. If you look at the CPS website on contingency plans, there’s zero plan to make up any days that might be lost as a result of a work stoppage.”
Additionally, because there are no makeup days planned, teachers will not be able to make up any lost pay.
A Lot Of People Are Impacted By The Strike
It's not just parents, teachers, and students who are impacted when educators go on strike. In the Chicago teachers strike, thousands of people across the city are affected.
These numbers include 299,000 children and their families, 25,000 Chicago teachers and other CTU members, and 7,500 Service Employees International Union (SEIU) staff working in CPS, including teacher assistants, custodians, bus aides, and security officers, according to NPR.
Negotiations Are Key To Resolutions
Successful communication and negotiation between schools and government officials are key to reaching an agreement and preventing or ending teachers strikes.
Prior to strikes, many teachers and school districts engage in a process known as "collective bargaining," wherein employers and a group of employees — such as a teachers union — negotiate with the aim of reaching an agreement to regulate salaries, working conditions, benefits, and other career field specific issues, according to the National Council on Teaching Equality.
Collective bargaining is currently legal for teachers in 34 states, optional for officials in an additional 10 states, and illegal in seven states, according to the National Education Association. When this collective bargaining fails, strikes commences — such as in Chicago.
Strikes Aren't Limited To One Part Of The Country
Chicago is only the most recent city to experience a teachers strike. Teachers across the country have been on strike, from California, one of the wealthiest states which has strong protections for public unions — and one of the poorest, West Virginia, which has lessened union protections in recent years, according to CNN.
Along with Chicago, teachers have gone on strike in Denver, Los Angeles, Oakland and throughout West Virginia this year, CNN reported. Last year, they staged walkouts in Arizona, Colorado, Kentucky, North Carolina, Oklahoma, and West Virginia. There have been rallies in Georgia and Virginia.
Teachers Want To Be Back In The Classroom
Strikes aren't ideal for anyone, but sometimes they are necessary. And teachers would much rather be in the classroom doing what they love: teaching. As one Chicago teacher wrote on Twitter, "I’d much rather be back in the classroom with my students. Striking ISN’T fun, but bc of years of disinvestment in CPS I’m willing to stand in the cold and march through the streets to fight for things your kids have in the burbs!"
Reasons for the strikes vary and each union has its own local concerns. But teachers nationwide are united in their cause of changing underlying issues of how America should compensate its teachers and educate its children. As teachers across the country continue to stage strikes and walkouts, the issues they are championing should matter to everyone. Know the facts and voice your opinions.