Progress Illinois provides highlights from the Chicago Teachers Union's Tuesday rally for a "fair contract," during which participants also called for "fair-share" revenue solutions to tackle the fiscal issues facing the city and state.
Holding signs reading, "CPS: Broke on Purpose," and "Pay cut? No thanks! Take the money from the banks," a few thousand Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) members and their allies took to the city's downtown streets early Tuesday evening to rally for a "fair contract" and progressive state and local revenue options.
Educators and their supporters marched from the Thompson Center down LaSalle Street to the Chicago Board of Trade, stopping briefly outside City Hall and several banks along the way. The massive group chanted call-and-response style: "What do we want? Fair contract! When do we want it? Now!"
The demonstration comes amid contract negotiations between the CTU and school district.
At the Thompson Center, CTU President Karen Lewis told an energetic crowd to push for more than just a "fair contract."
"You have to remember what you're fighting for is not just a fair contract, it is the history of fair contracts. And if we have a chance, this is it. This is the time where you have to stand up and tell 'em all no we're not going to take that. This is what is more reasonable," she said. "And, once again, remember we have tried to provide solutions for them on so many different levels but the one thing they don't want to hear, the tough choices that people don't want to make, is going where the money is."
"Let's talk about what's really happening," the labor leader added. "We have people who are trying to set the working class at odds with poor people. That's what we have set up for us right now. Working class people don't want to pay anymore property taxes, they don't want to pay anymore taxes. That makes sense. We understand that. Poor people are trying to get help. We understand that. But we have a governor who thought it was OK to cut funding to autism on World Autism Day. So, clearly, priorities aren't shifted in the right direction."
Lewis took aim at Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner over his lack of support for fair-share revenue options.
"Who are the one set of people that could solve this problem by doing one thing -- paying their fair share? There's a person that lives in this town who could solve all of the pension fund crisis, not by reaching into his checkbook and taking food out of his children's mouths, but just by paying his fair share of taxes," she said.
CTU's contract with the mayor-appointed Chicago Board of Education expires June 30. The union's current contract was signed after the teachers' strike under Mayor Rahm Emanuel's watch in September 2012.
This time around, the union is calling for a new one-year contract with a 3 percent pay raise, among other demands including smaller class sizes and a reduction in standardized testing. The school district, which reportedly faces a more than $1 billion budget deficit in the coming school year, wants a three-year agreement including a 1 percent pay raise in the third year, according to the union.
Among other demands, the CTU wants Chicago Public Schools officials to "engage in legal action against big banks to retrieve upwards of $1 billion for our classrooms" by ending "contracts with these same financial institutions that refuse to renegotiate excessive fees and penalties." Another revenue option the union supports is a financial transaction tax.
"When the wealthiest in our city tell us that our schools are broke, we say our schools are broke on purpose," CTU Vice President Jesse Sharkey told those at the Thompson Center.
"We will not stand for a school system in which our future is mortgaged, in which our classrooms are shortchanged, and in which teachers cannot do their jobs. ... In which the schools are stripped for everything of value, where the halls are dirty, where the classroom are unclean because Ken Griffin and Bruce Rauner and their billionaire friends don't want to pay their taxes," he added.
Sharkey said the push for a "fair contract" and "a just Chicago" is "not a fight for teachers alone."
"This is a fight for everybody who believes in public schools," he said. "This is a fight for everybody in our society who depends on the public good. This is a fight for parents and folks in the community."
Members of organizations such as Action Now and the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization (KOCO) stood in solidarity with CTU members.
"Any union that will make us a part of their contract demands -- 50 sustainable community schools in the city of Chicago, a restorative justice coordinator in every school, early childhood education for every child, along with smaller class sizes -- we're with you," KOCO's Jitu Brown told the crowd. "This is about us coming together in communities around the city of Chicago, saying we want a different type of Chicago. We want a Chicago that embraces our children, not criminalizes our children. We want a Chicago that builds the middle class, not kills the middle class."
Former Chicago mayoral candidate and Cook County County Commissioner Jesus "Chuy" Garcia spoke at the rally. As Garcia stepped up to the podium, the crowd chanted, "We still want Chuy!"
"I understand the discontent and the rage that you've expressed when the Chicago Public Schools tried to impose a salary cut on the hard-earned benefits that teachers have enjoyed thus far," Garcia told the crowd. "And in order for us to move forward as one, and to achieve a system that guarantees education and quality education for all, teachers' voices must be at the table. There must be equitable bargaining, and we've got to put all the cards on the table, but especially the question of revenues. And everyone paying a fair share is what will be required in order to have a sustainable funding situation in Illinois that will ensure that the Chicago Public Schools system stays sustainable for all of our children."
Here's more from Garcia, Lewis and Sharkey plus scenes from Tuesday's rally:
At the Thompson Center, progressive Chicago Alds. Susan Sadlowski Garza (10th), Ricardo Munoz (22nd) and Nicholas Sposato (36th) were on stage with the CTU leaders.
"Quality education is a cornerstone of our democracy. Any attack on public education is a threat to our democracy," said Garza, a former public school counselor. "We must protect public education and ensure that working families have an accountable, transparent and quality public education system. We cannot stand by idle as career politicians continue to make poor decisions affecting our society's most precious resource -- our children."