Thousands of striking Chicago teachers marched through the city’s downtown to demand smaller class sizes and more support staff – in the second-longest walkout by US public school teachers in recent history.
The third-largest US public school system cancelled classes for the fifth straight day on Wednesday for 300,000 students, who have been out of school and without after-hours activities since the system’s 25,000 teachers went on strike on Thursday.
The Chicago Teachers Union called the work stoppage after contract negotiations with Chicago Public Schools failed to produce a deal on pay, overcrowding and a lack of support staff such as nurses and social workers.
Teachers marched in Chicago’s downtown, banging on drums, blowing whistles and carrying signs as they clogged streets during the morning rush hour. Vehicles stuck in traffic honked horns as one driver leaned out of her car near Willis Tower and told the teachers to get back to work.
The teachers then gathered at City Hall for a rally as Mayor Lori Lightfoot was set to deliver her budget address.
“We have kids that just want to learn and we just don’t have the resources to teach them,” said teaching paraprofessional Christina Morales, 32, as she marched. “It’s not about the greed, it’s about the need.”
The strike is the latest in a wave of work stoppages in US school districts in which demands for school resources have superseded calls for higher salaries and benefits. In Chicago and elsewhere, teachers have emphasized the need to help underfunded schools, framing their demands as a call for social justice.
The strike in Chicago is the longest teacher work stoppage in the United States since Union City, California, teachers staged a four-day walkout over pay last spring. Los Angeles teachers held a week-long strike last winter over similar demands involving pay, class size and support staff.
Negotiators for the union and school system have been trading proposals since the strike began while teachers have picketed daily in front of many of the system’s 500 schools and have held several rallies in downtown Chicago.
On Tuesday, Democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren joined striking teachers at a rally at an elementary school on the city’s West Side.
Lightfoot, who was elected in April, said the district offered a raise for teachers of 16 percent over five years and has promised to address class sizes and staffing levels. She said the city could not afford the union’s full demands, which would cost an extra $2.4bn annually – more than a 30 percent increase to the current $7.7bn school budget.
Although the latest work stoppage has forced officials to cancel classes and sports events, school buildings are staying open.