Chicago Teachers Union may agree to release hostages

The feuding between Windy City Mayor Lori Lightfoot and the Chicago Teachers Union has been going on for weeks, as the Mayor continues to push to reopen the schools for in-person learning and the union refuses to return to work. As of this weekend, however, there’s a light at the end of the tunnel, or so the local press would have you believe. The Chicago Tribune is reporting that a tentative deal may have been reached, but there are so many qualifiers attached to that announcement that it’s hard to say that actual progress has been made. Keep in mind that all of this negotiating has been centered on preventing the teachers from going on strike. But they’re not actually showing up for work as it is and it doesn’t sound like there’s any date for them to return included in this “breakthrough.”

Mayor Lori Lightfoot and the Chicago Teachers Union’s leadership reached a tentative agreement Sunday to reopen city schools for families seeking in-person instruction, narrowly avoiding a strike, sources said.

Any deal is contingent on broader union approval of the terms. It was not clear if or when that might happen and a new target date for a return to in-person instruction had not been announced.

Both sides have been close to a deal for days but the agreement kept falling through, often with little notice, leading to confusion and frustration from some parents.

While the media is saying that a deal has either been reached or is very close, neither the Mayor’s office nor the union have mentioned a date that the schools could be reopened. As of Friday night, the CTU’s president, Jesse Sharkey, held a video conference call for union members where she said that they were still trying to define a list of demands that were the most important and “doable.”

At this point, the only thing the teachers seem to have agreed on is that they’re not going on strike… at least, not yet. What the difference is between being on strike and what they’re currently doing has not been made clear. There’s still some remote teaching taking place, but that’s not satisfying anyone.

Sharkey also made it clear that even if some sort of agreement had been reached with the Mayor by last night, that would only mean that the current negotiating team had agreed. The union would still need to vote on the agreement before it would become official. And from the tone many of the CTU’s leaders have been taking lately, it’s not at all clear that such a vote would be smooth sailing for the deal.

One of the biggest sticking points for the CTU was their insistence that all of the teachers be vaccinated before they agree to return to the classrooms. But as we’ve discussed here previously, that’s not something that’s within Mayor Lightfoot’s power to grant. Even if she agreed to it and could get the Governor to move all teachers into the priority vaccination group, it would take months to vaccinate all of them. At this rate, the entire school year will be over before the union’s list of demands can be met.

With all of this in mind, the Tribune’s headline saying that the schools and the union have reached “a tentative reopening deal” seems more than a bit optimistic. Frankly, if the schools do fully reopen for in-person learning before summer begins I may faint from shock.