To underline the first day of their strike vote, Chicago Teachers Union members are hosting a labor rally headlined by Sen. Bernie Sanders, who has already brought more national attention to their cause as a Democratic candidate for president.
The union-friendly Vermont senator, who is due to appear Tuesday evening at the CTU headquarters to West Town to rally with the teachers and other local labor groups, is the first Democratic presidential candidate to headline a CTU event during the current campaign.
Sanders has already shone a spotlight on the labor strife in Chicago Public Schools, tweeting his support earlier this month for the CTU and another group of workers also poised for a possible walkout, including bus and special education aides, custodians and security officers. Leading up to Sanders’ Chicago appearance, two other presidential contenders, Sen. Elizabeth Warren and former Vice President Joe Biden, made similar statements of support for Chicago educators.
The 25,000-member CTU embarked Tuesday on a three-day strike vote which, if the measure passes, will empower the union’s House of Delegates to set a walkout date as early as Oct. 7. SEIU Local 73, the union for the 7,000 support employees, has already authorized a strike, which could occur as soon as Oct. 17.
Tuesday’s rally was also scheduled to feature speakers from other labor groups, including Mount Sinai Hospital workers, United Auto Workers members and teachers with Southwest Suburban Federation of Teachers Local 943.
Asked at a Tuesday press conference about the candidates’ tweets and Sanders’ appearance at the rally, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot said, “It’s not a surprise to me that Democratic contenders for the presidency support working families and support teachers. So do I. It’s part of who we are as Democrats.”
Lightfoot was asked for her message to teachers as they weigh whether to vote on a strike.
“We value you and I think we’ve shown you that by a very fulsome compensation package which would result in the average teacher getting an increase of 24 percent over five years," Lightfoot said, referring to the both the 16% raises the city has offered to teachers and the additional “step” pay increases that CPS teachers receive for each year of service.
“CTU teachers, if this package is accepted, would be among the highest-paid teachers in the country and it would be the most lucrative CTU package in its history," Lightfoot added.
The mayor said her administration has heard teachers’ concerns about nurses, counselors, case managers and other support.
“That’s why we have baked those into the budget for this year and have asked and ask again CTU to partner with us on helping create that pipeline," said Lightfoot, repeating her vow to clear her schedule to sit at the bargaining table personally.
At the same time as the labor rally, the Sanders campaign was scheduled to host a “Bernie 2020: Plan to Win” party in the Heart of Chicago neighborhood near Pilsen. Earlier in the evening, supporters held a similar event in Wicker Park after a morning of the “Bernie Beats Trump” Tour in Iowa. During a stop on the tour, the Sanders campaign announced endorsements from more than 85 Iowa union workers.
Also on Tuesday, ahead of an announcement by U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of an impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump, Sanders said he hoped the U.S. House Judiciary Committee would begin the impeachment process.