Members of the Chicago Teachers Union preparing art work for their imminent strike | Photo courtesy of the CTU
This story is published on in partnership with The Real Chi, an experimental “learning newsroom” in North Lawndale for young adults.

UPDATE 1:05 PM: Chicago Park District employees reportedly have reached a tentative contract agreement, according to the Chicago Sun-Times. They will not strike with the Chicago Teachers Union on Thursday. Stay tuned for more updates.

UPDATE: 4:05 PM: If you’re a parent or guardian looking for places to take your children during the CPS strike, here is a map of places for children. 


Lane Tech High School counselor Nicole Ellis spends her days trying to balance the caseloads of more than 400 students, even though the American School Counselor Association recommends 250 students per counselor. With a student body of nearly 4,500, and only 11 counselors, Ellis says, Lane Tech is one example of an overworked and under-resourced staff within the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) system. 

That’s why Ellis supports the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) strike, which is set to begin Thursday (Oct. 17). Though the impact of a strike is far reaching, and will disrupt the daily routines of staffers, teachers, parents and students, Ellis says the intentions behind the strike are pure. Her school, like many others in the CPS network, are in dire need of more support staff to help lessen their day-to-day workload.

For Ellis and many other staffers, the goal of the strike is to force the city’s hand to create a more impactful and safer learning environment for CPS students. With teachers and staffers being stretched thin, it’s challenging to give each student the attention they need to succeed. 

“I think it’s really easy to twist this [strike] into teachers being selfish, not thinking about students and doing this thing that can be disruptive,” Ellis explains, “But at the same time, there’s never been good change when you just let people walk all over you. So if we have to make this statement to make a change for the betterment of our students, then that’s what we have to do.”

After weeks at the bargaining table, Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced at a press conference Oct. 16 that she expects the CTU to announce a strike this evening. Therefore, there will be no school on Oct. 17.

Lightfoot says she and her team have worked hard to listen to the union’s concerns and tried to provide the “best deal that is fiscally responsible, that’s fair to teachers and fair to taxpayers.” If she met all of the CTU’s demands, Lightfoot says it would cost the city $2.5 billion, and she simply can’t afford it.

“Without question, the deal we put on the table is the best in the Chicago Teachers Union history,” Lightfoot said, stating that all CPS employees would receive a 16% pay raise and that support staff would see a 38% pay raise over the life of the five-year contract.

“These raises respect the value and respect that we have for educators and school staff,” Lightfoot said.

But the unions are as equally concerned with social and restorative justice for students and families as they are with pay. The strike will consist of members of the CTU and the Service Employees International Union Local 73 (SEIU 73), which includes school support staff, Chicago Park District (CPD) employees, bus monitors, security and custodians. 

CPS teachers have been without a contract for months. Legally, the union can only strike about wages and benefits, but the CTU says the issues extend much further than that. According to its list of demands, the CTU is arguing for better pay and benefits, full-time nurses and librarians in school, caps on class sizes, more counselors and social workers, affordable housing and sanctuary schools, among other things.

One SEIU Local 73 member says their group faces similar problems. Evelyn Davis-West is a special education classroom assistant at William Bishop Owen Scholastic Academy. She’s been working there for five years, and working without a contract for the last 17 months. 

Davis-West says she’s constantly pulled away from the classroom to perform duties outside of her job description, such as lunch and recess monitoring, working as a security guard and preparing teachers. Additionally, she says she’s not invited to meetings that involve her diverse learner students. The lack of respect is a big reason why she’s in full support of the strike.

“If we’re in a classroom with a diverse learner, let us be in that classroom. Let us give that child what is due to that child, which is time,” Davis-West says. “That’s no respect when you constantly pulling us like a rubber band. And this rubber band is about to pop.”

Davis-West says that the personal impact of the strike reaches beyond a hit to her wallet. It directly affects her children’s education. As CPS students, they will miss valuable classroom time. 

Davis-West blames Lightfoot for the slow contract negotiations. None of Lightfoot’s promises are in writing, Davis-West says, so the CTU and SEIU Local 73 are left with no choice but to strike. According to Davis-West, during the 2012 strike, workers didn’t see the verbal promises of former Mayor Rahm Emanuel come to fruition. So this time around, the CTU and SEIU Local 73 want guarantees written into their contact. 

Aside from missing school, Ellis says her Lane Tech students are concerned about missing the early college admission deadline on Nov. 1. She hopes that colleges and universities will be understanding if her students are late sending their admission materials. 

This shouldn’t be a problem for students applying to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Andrew Borst, director of undergraduate admission at UIUC, says their application process doesn’t require any counselor or teacher involvement.  The school no longer accepts letters of recommendations. Students are asked to report their own grades, test scores and graduate date.

According to Borst, the only way a student’s admission would be affected is if a strike occurs during a graduating student’s final exam period, but that hasn’t happened before with CPS. 

“We know that, in the state of Illinois, the high school counselors per student ratio is relatively high compared to the rest of the nation,” Borst says. “So counselors are serving a large number of students. So we did it to take the burden off of counselors as much as possible.”

Although UIUC’s application process lessens the workload for high-school counselors, this isn’t the case for all college admission processes. So Ellis is telling her students to prepare their applications as early as possible.

“We just have been telling students the biggest thing is for them to have their applications in on time, and then whatever ends up happening, if there is a delay, the schools are going to know about it and we’ll just send things as soon as we can,” Ellis says.

During past strikes, CPS used the park districts to house students during the day. But with the CPD planning to strike for the first time in 55 years, CPS’ options are limited. (Ed. note: On Wednesday afternoon, the Park District reached a tentative deal with the city, averting their role in strike).

Davis-West says this gives the unions a major advantage, and increases the possibility of a fair contract for all.

“This right here shows you how serious this is. CPS has always hid behind the Chicago Park District [during] strikes,” she explains. “But now, since the park district is standing in solidarity with us, there’s a big guarantee that everybody’s going to step out and shut it down.”