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Education

Chicago Teachers Go On Strike

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Teachers are on strike in Chicago today. The teachers union voted unanimously for that move in the nation's fourth-largest school district. And Sarah Karp of our member station WBEZ is covering this story. Good morning.

SARAH KARP, BYLINE: Good morning.

INSKEEP: The sheer scale of this draws our attention. What's it like to be in a city where 300,000 students have their teachers on strike?

KARP: Well. I can tell you that their parents are pretty stressed out. A lot of parents are wondering how long this is going to be - the strike. And they're looking for options. The school district said that parents could bring their kids to schools and that principals would be there and administrators would be there. But a lot of parents aren't so sure about that because it could be a lot of kids and only a few adults.

Park districts are open. Libraries are open. But still, you know, there's - it's a big disruption. We've also had homecoming dances having to be moved, and the PSAT had to be moved back. So there's a lot of things that are happening because of this strike.

INSKEEP: Wow. So it's even beyond the normal frustration of being a working parent and needing your kid to be somewhere safe during the workday. So how is it exactly that the teachers union and the city arrived at this impasse?

KARP: Well, they've been negotiating for many months since really May, which was when the new mayor, Lori Lightfoot, became - came into office. And they've been going back-and-forth, not really on salaries so much. Very early on, Lightfoot put out a very aggressive salary package of 16% over five years.

But on some other issues that are more social justice issues, things like that kids should all have access to nurses or kids should all have access to social workers, and they've just been going back-and-forth. Lori Lightfoot, the mayor, does not want to put those type of promises in the contract, though she agrees that the kids should have access to these services. But the union is really insistent that these things be put into the contract.

INSKEEP: I want to underline what you're telling me. Normally, we would expect a strike of any kind to be mainly about wages or benefits, and you would expect teachers to say we need more for ourselves, to take care of ourselves.

You're saying they're being offered some decent raises over the next several years. They have gone on strike primarily over demands for better conditions for their students. That's the reason they're walking out. That's the reason they're risking losing their pay and everything else. Is that right?

KARP: That's exactly true. You know, this is the union that in 2012 led a strike and was sort of one of the big, you know, proponents of this idea of common good strikes. And they've really been pushing for many things over the years that are more, you know, working conditions and learning conditions.

For example, they've made a big push for air conditioners in every school back in a past contract negotiations. And at first, the mayor then Rahm Emanuel, said, well, we can't afford air conditioners in every school. But now we have air conditioners in every school, at least we're supposed to.

So they've been very much on top of sort of the idea that schools need to be good places for kids and that the contract and the union is responsible for pushing for that.

INSKEEP: Well, we'll see what happens this time around as a strike begins. Sarah Karp of WBEZ, thanks so much.

KARP: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MY DAD VS. YOURS' "BELLICOSE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.