CTU strike, Day 1: ‘This is not about making a deal, this about a fair contract’

Bea Lumpkin, a 101-year-old labor activist, joins members of the Graduate Students Union (GSU) as they chant in support of striking teachers and school-support staff in front of Kenwood Academy High School Thursday morning. (Photo by Marc Monaghan)

Staff writer

Early Thursday morning outside of Bret Harte Elementary School, teachers, parents with children and graduate students from the University of Chicago stood together, chanting as drivers hooked their horns to show support for teachers on strike.

“This is not about making a deal, this is about a fair contract,” said Katherine Dawkins, a K-8 technology teacher at Bret Harte Elementary School. Dawkins has worked at Harte for 18 years and is a CTU delegate.

“I think this is a very good thing because it is our right to strike; we have collective bargaining,” Dawkins said. “It is our right to strike when we feel that our environment is not fair. We need a contract; we don’t have a contract. This has been going on for five months. So, this isn’t new. We didn’t have to come to this.”

Donna Dyer-Williams, a special education classroom assistant (SECA) with SEIU Local 73 has been working at Harte for 20 years. She said, “We have an unfair, unjust contract. I feel that we should be asking for the money that’s been wasted. I work hard each and every day with these children. It’s a lot of funds out there. There is no reason why we should be out here on the street.”

At Kenwood Academy, teachers danced to lively music while chanting on the picket line. Michael Shea, a CTU delegate and a history teacher at Kenwood for 18 years, spoke to the Herald about the continuous struggle to change conditions on the ground for students, teachers and staff since the CTU’s strike in 2012.

According to Shea, the strike in 2012 was a fight to protect basic provisions that were won in the 1980s, but the 2019 strike is looking to change the experiences of teachers and students today.

“Since 2012, we’ve been on two strikes, and we’ve won some things that are kind of hard to feel,” Shea said. “Like when the district gets a billion dollars since 2016 and additional funding from the state because of our political activism, it’s hard to feel that in the classroom because CPS hasn’t really made that win real for students in particular.

“From 2012 to now, I think that feels like a big difference. It feels like this one is that people are looking to feel some of those wins in how they are able to engage with students and how they are able to conduct their day-to-day work as a classroom teacher and staff.”

Shea summarized the last several years as, “2012 was a major attack, 2016 was to win funding and now we are looking to move that funding into reality, into the real world, into the real lived experiences of students, teachers and school workers into the school.”

Yesterday, while students were leaving Kenwood Academy to go to a homecoming game that was moved from Saturday to Wednesday night, they talked about class sizes — one of the issues that CTU were striking for.

When Ja’Kobe Jones, a 15-year-old sophomore, was asked how he felt about the strike, he said, “I feel like being out of school is good, but I feel like the teachers … It’s a real problem, it shouldn’t just be a joke. There are a lot of kids in one classroom. At the beginning of the year, somebody told me that there were 37 people in a classroom and people had to sit on the floor. I think it is still affecting us now, some of the lunchrooms are packed. So, I think they should distribute the kids better or add more classes and periods.”

Herald staff writer Aaron Gettinger contributed to this report.