Chicago strike means day off for some, emergency for others

Chicago parents leaned on family, friends and community groups as 25,000 teachers in the nation’s third-largest school district went on strike this past week , cancelling classes for more than 300,000 kids.

For some families, the Chicago Teachers Union walkout meant a day off and a bit of inconvenience for parents juggling work schedules. For the city’s most vulnerable families, though, the strike triggered a hasty search for a solution to help kids and let their parents make it to work.

Both Mayor Lori Lightfoot and union leaders said negotiators have several major disputes to resolve, including pay and benefits, class size, and school staffing.

Classes were cancelled Thursday and Friday, and it’s not clear when the first major walkout since 2012 by the city’s teachers will end. The two sides were meeting Saturday.

The uncertainty of her five kids being out of school has weighed on Antenisha Dale. When she walked into a Salvation Army community centre on the city’s West Side Friday morning, Dale’s eyes widened when she learned they could all stay for the day, for no charge.

The 29-year-old took off from her job at a grocery store deli counter on Thursday, forgoing a day’s pay when every dollar is essential for her family. Finding an affordable place for her kids to go if a strike drags on “takes a weight off my shoulders,” Dale said.

Striking teachers argue that students and families in similar situations are the motivation behind their “social justice” agenda, not their own pay or benefits. They’re demanding smaller class sizes and more resources for schools, including nurses and social workers, written into the contract along with ways to enforce those changes.

“What we really want is an improvement in our working conditions, which are the learning conditions for our students,” CTU President Jesse Sharkey said Friday.

City and district officials, though, have called their offer of a 16% salary increase over five years for teachers “historic.” Meeting all of teachers’ demands including a 5% salary increase for three years would cost more than $2.5 billion each year, an amount the district cannot afford, Mayor Lori Lightfoot has said.

“CPS is not flush with cash,” Lightfoot said Friday, noting the district’s reliance on loans in its latest budget plan.

Chicago Public Schools’ buildings remained open on regular schedules, staffed by principals and non-union employees and prepared to provide students with breakfast and lunch.

But the schools staffed by makeshift crews didn’t seem popular with parents. The district reported about 7,500 students showed up on the strike’s first day.

On the city’s North Side on Friday, a few parents opted to bring their kids to a neighbourhood YMCA rather than nearby schools.

Samantha Gutierrez said her daughter preferred the YMCA where she goes regularly in contrast to the school now staffed by people she doesn’t know well.

“I didn’t feel comfortable sending her to a building full of strangers,” said Gutierrez, 25, an orthodontist assistant. “And I think she would feel a little intimidated there. She said she wanted to go to the Y where she knows kids.”

Ira Cox worked out at the YMCA Friday morning before heading home to spend the day with his 7-year-old girl and 9-year-old boy. Cox said he sent his children to their school on Thursday while he worked but said it felt like “crossing a picket line.”

He arranged to work from home on Friday.

“I know I have options some people don’t have and I am not criticizing anybody,” Cox said. “But I can do this, so I am doing it in solidarity with the striking teachers.”

Parents whose jobs have inflexible scheduling and keep them on tight budgets that won’t cover admission prices for a variety of “strike camps” planned around the city were forced to find alternate plans. While some relied on family members, others turned to the city’s churches and non-profit groups for help.

Courtney Holmon, senior program director at The Ark of St. Sabina, said she thinks parents took kids to work or stayed home during the first few days of the strike. But if it continues, expects more families on the South Side to need The Ark’s free program.

“We have people that are bringing four kids in one family,” Holmon said. “They can’t afford four times $65.”

Jalisa McKissick brought her 9-year-old daughter and 5-year-old son to a Salvation Army centre on Friday morning before heading to work at a downtown department store. McKissick said she took Thursday off but couldn’t afford to give up another day of pay as a single mom.

McKissick, 27, said she’s frustrated by teachers’ decision to strike just as her kids were settling into their classes and worries that they will have little time to get back on track before classes let out again for holidays.

“These children should not be going through this,” she said. “I think they’re being inconsiderate and insensitive.”

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here


Just Posted

The Hub on Ross has announced it has permanently closed. (Photo courtesy The Hub on Ross Facebook page)
The Hub on Ross in Red Deer to permanently close

The Hub on Ross in Red Deer permanently closed on Wednesday. “The… Continue reading

There were 410 COVID-19 cases recorded in Alberta Wednesday. (File photo)
Alberta records 410 new COVID-19 cases Wednesday

Central zone dropped to 160 active cases

Shaun Isaac, owner of Woodchucker Firewood in Trochu, is awaiting a new shipment during a firewood shortage in the province. All of the wood he has left is being saved for long-time customers who need it to heat their homes. (Contributed photo).
Firewood shortage in central Alberta caused by rising demand, gaps in supply

‘I’ve said “No” to more people than ever’: firewood seller

The Red Deer Senior Citizens Downtown House reopened earlier this month, after closing in March due to the pandemic. (Photo by Sean McIntosh/Advocate staff)
Red Deer Senior Citizens Downtown House reopens

The Red Deer Senior Citizens Downtown House was closed for months due… Continue reading

Guy Pelletier, vice-president of the Red Deer region for Melcor Developments. (Contributed photo).
Melcor has to redesign new neighbourhood after Molly Banister decision

City council disagreed with administration’s recommendation to scrap road plans

Alice Kolisnyk, deputy director of the Red Deer Food Bank, says the agency expects an increase in demand as the COVID-19 pandemic continues. Every new subscription to the Red Deer Advocate includes a $50 donation to the food bank. (Photo by BYRON HACKETT/Advocate Staff)
Support the food bank with a subscription to the Red Deer Advocate

The community’s most vulnerable members are always in need of a hand,… Continue reading

Conservative leader Erin O'Toole rises during Question Period in the House of Commons in Ottawa on Wednesday October 28, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Conversion therapy ban gets approval in principle, exposes Conservative divisions

Conversion therapy ban gets approval in principle, exposes Conservative divisions

Sierra Robinson, shown in this recent handout image, 18, is one of 15 young Canadians who asked a Federal Court judge to compel Canada to come up with a climate-change recovery plan. The judge rejected their claims and the case will not proceed to trial but lawyers for the youths say they'll appeal the ruling. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Lena Fountain *MANDATORY CREDIT*
Judge rejects youths’ lawsuit that asks Canada to develop climate recovery plan

Judge rejects youths’ lawsuit that asks Canada to develop climate recovery plan

Members of the Canadian Armed Forces march during the Calgary Stampede parade in Calgary, Friday, July 8, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Culture becomes latest front in military’s fight against sexual misconduct

Culture becomes latest front in military’s fight against sexual misconduct

A nurse performs a test on a patient at a drive-in COVID-19 clinic in Montreal, on October 21, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
COVID-19 death rates higher in neighbourhoods with more visible minorities: StatCan

COVID-19 death rates higher in neighbourhoods with more visible minorities: StatCan

Chris Touchet works to repair H & H Tire in Jennings, La., after Hurricane Delta passed the area Saturday, Oct. 10, 2020. The day after Hurricane Delta blew through besieged southern Louisiana, residents started the routine again: dodging overturned cars on the roads, trudging through knee-deep water to flooded homes with ruined floors and no power, and pledging to rebuild after the storm. (Scott Clause /The Daily Advertiser via AP)
Hurricane Zeta hits Louisiana with flooding, power outages

Hurricane Zeta hits Louisiana with flooding, power outages

In this image provided by Apple TV+, Rene Otero appears in a scene from "Boys State." The election has unleashed an avalanche of documentaries like no season before it. Dozens of films, exploring issues from gerrymandering to white supremacists, have sought to illuminate the many issues and trends voters are confronting at the polls on Tuesday. In a presidential election of enormous stakes, filmmakers have rushed to finish their films before Election Day. (Apple TV+ via AP)
Ahead of the election, a landslide of documentaries

Ahead of the election, a landslide of documentaries

President Donald Trump listens as Nevada business leaders talk at Trump International Hotel Las Vegas, Wednesday, Oct. 28, 2020, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
Former DHS official says he wrote ‘Anonymous’ Trump critique

Former DHS official says he wrote ‘Anonymous’ Trump critique

Most Read