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After formalizing a strike vote Oct. 16, 2019, the Chicago Teachers Union distributed picket signs in English and Spanish for members to use during their strike.

After formalizing a strike vote Oct. 16, 2019, the Chicago Teachers Union distributed picket signs in English and Spanish for members to use during their strike.

As they cast contract vote, some Chicago teachers feel unsettled

As teachers cast ballots on their five-year contract Thursday and into Friday, some report feeling unsettled, particularly as questions surrounding issues such as pay for veteran educators  continue to go unanswered.

Teachers are voting at their schools and union headquarters, and the results will be announced around 5 p.m. Friday. If more than 50% reject the contract, the union’s House of Delegates could weigh whether to go on strike again. 

“We could have gotten this deal without going on strike,” said John Surwhillo,  a special education teacher at Kennedy High School in Garfield Ridge, who said he voted no. “Union leadership has been out there saying what a great deal this is for the city, but, monetarily, it’s a bad deal for teachers.”

Surwhillo, a 14-year veteran of Chicago schools, said he lost $3,100 in pay during the strike, some of which will be compensated when teachers make up days later in the school year, but some of which is an outright loss. Among his other criticisms: The contract doesn’t specify how raises for veteran teachers are metered out; the union wasn’t able to change much in the way of the teacher evaluation system for experienced teachers with excellent ratings; and there’s too much wiggle room in class size guidelines. 

Guadalupe Rivera, a fourth grade teacher at Hurley Elementary School in West Lawn, said she also voted no, also because of the fuzzy details around veteran pay, as well as class size. In conversations with other teachers, she observed votes falling along generational lines, with younger teachers tending to support the agreement, while older teachers did the math on $5 million in veteran raises and figured they came out to about $500 per teacher per year at best. “I probably spent $1,000 out of my own pocket each year on supplies — it’s ridiculous.” 

Some teachers took to social media leading up to the vote, largely to acknowledge the deal wasn’t perfect but encourage their peers to vote in favor of it. 

“I am not content with our wins, but also saw from the inside how hard it was to win what we did,” said Katie Osgood, a special education teacher and member of the union bargaining team, on Twitter. “This is not a union that conceded immediately like so many others. We put on real, scary, open-ended fight against power.”

Sarah Chambers, a special education teacher and union executive board member, said she planned to vote yes on the contract. In a Twitter thread, she listed raises for paraprofessionals, bankable sick days, increased teacher protection, and an increase in funding to reduce class size among the reasons for her support. 

“CPS won nothing but a five-year deal,” she wrote. “We took every penny and more. We forced [Mayor Lori Lightfoot] to take money out of rich peoples’ hands and put it in our schools.”

High school science teacher Ed Hershey said his school remained opposed to the contract as of Tuesday, although “Leadership led a real fight,” he wrote. “Not perfectly, but a fight nonetheless.”

Roxana Gonzalez, who was among the teachers arrested for a sit-in at Sterling Bay headquarters during the strike, tweeted about contract provisions for bilingual education and sanctuary for immigrant students. 

“It made me emotional to see the wins for Bilingual Ed and Sanctuary,” she wrote. “Those are wins to keep our Latinx and immigrant students safe, loved, valued, honored and seen. We have a lot more to win, but that’s not nothing.”

Chicago Teachers Union President Jesse Sharkey also shared his thoughts in a letter to union members posted early Thursday. 

“We accomplished what we set out to do,” he wrote. “Ultimately, the goal of contract negotiations is to put something in place that makes your life at work better, and we have achieved that through tremendous effort and selflessness.”

Sharkey’s letter warned members there were other battles ahead, such as over legislation that would pave the way for an elected school board.

In a Chalkbeat survey of teachers earlier this week, 58% of the 62 respondents felt like the strike did not achieve their desired results and was not worth it to them personally. It was unclear whether those teachers would vote “no” on the deal.