The Chicago Teachers Union held a massive downtown rally Thursday evening, during which 16 people were arrested for protesting inside Bank of America. Progress Illinois was there for the demonstration.
Hundreds of Chicago Teachers Union members and their supporters hit the city's downtown streets early Thursday evening in "a show of force" to rally for a fair contract and protest against $100 million in proposed school budget cuts.
There was some civil disobedience at the start of the hours-long protest, which kicked off at Bank of America, 135 S. LaSalle St.
Sixteen protesters were arrested after they entered the Bank of America building, sat down on the ground, began chanting and refused police's orders to leave. According to Chicago police news affairs, misdemeanor trespassing charges are pending against the protesters, who sought to call attention to the $77 million in profits Bank of America has purportedly made through "toxic" interest rate swaps with the Chicago Public Schools.
"I think we have to really put our priorities in perspective," CTU President Karen Lewis told reporters outside Bank of America. "So the people that gain the most out of our system being in financial chaos are right behind us, so that's why we're down here. Because we have to make a choice in this city: banks or schools?"
Protesters later marched through the Loop, eventually making their way to City Hall, where they chanted call-and-response style, "What do we want? Fair contract! When do we want it? Now!"
"Teachers around this city are united right now," said CTU Vice President Jesse Sharkey. "We do not want to see mid-year cuts to the schools. We do not think that the cuts that the board is proposing should be done on the backs of front line educators, especially when the appointed board of education has made sweetheart deals with banks and now refuses to ask the same banks to give back some of the wealth."
The demonstration, which Sharkey called "a show of force," comes amid ongoing contract talks between the CTU and cash-strapped CPS, which is facing a fiscal crisis and had to take out a $725 million loan on Wednesday to keep the district afloat through the current fiscal year.
CPS moved to borrow the money after it announced $100 million in budget cuts on Tuesday as well as plans to eliminate the district's pension pickup for teachers in an effort to save $130 million annually.
Lewis said teachers are "really upset" about the proposed pension cut, which CPS plans to implement in 30 days.
"It's a decrease in their paycheck, but also it's not part of labor law," Lewis said. "We're still under the old contract. So to unilaterally make a change in the contract is, as far as we're concerned, a declaration of war."
CPS announced the budget and pension cuts on the heels of CTU's "Big Bargaining Team" rejecting CPS' four-year contract offer on Monday, citing the district's "lack of real movement on the revenue problems" facing the school system, among other concerns.
Also this week, Gov. Bruce Rauner said his administration is getting ready for a potential state takeover of CPS, which is grappling with a $480 million hole in this year's budget.
The group took aim at both Rauner and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, chanting, "Hey, hey! Ho, ho! Bruce and Rahm have got to go!"
Check out scenes from the protest:
Kayla Steward, a CPS reading intervention teacher, called the financial issues facing the school district "heartbreaking," because "the people who are suffering are students."
"We're out here today advocating for them," she said. "That's what we do, we advocate for our kids and for our students. And what's happening is not fair, and it's not right for them."
Now that CTU's bargaining team has shot down the district's contract offer, labor talks between the union and CPS are entering the final "fact-finding" stage of negotiations. Fact finding has to occur before a teachers strike could happen.
Representatives from the union and school district are set to meet Friday for their next negotiation session.
"We're going to keep pushing to get an agreement, but we need the political leadership of this city to know that schools can't keep being the last priority," Sharkey said.