Oct. 17 (UPI) -- Teachers in Chicago officially went on strike Thursday over class sizes and pay
The city pre-emptively canceled school Thursday for the district's 360,000 students knowing the strike was imminent. The Chicago Teachers Union wants smaller class sizes and better staffing levels in their new contracts. The city is offering a 16 percent raise over the five-year contract; teachers are seeking a 15 percent raise over three years.
"Most marriages don't last five years, many marriages, and I don't like this contract enough to marry it," union President Jesse Shrakey said.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot said the union continued to bring up additional bargaining issues during negotiations, including a request to shorten instruction time by 30 minutes in the morning. Lightfoot said that will never happen. Teachers also wanted to get paid for unused sick days, which would cost the district $2.5 billion a year.
"We value our school workers and educators who make our schools successful," Lightfoot said. "Honoring that value is who I am and what I stand for. But I also must be responsible to the taxpayers."
Lightfoot said the deal on the table is the best in the union's history.
Union officials said there's a disconnect between what Lightfoot said and what's on the table.
Many teachers raised concerns about crowded classrooms and too few nurses, clinicians and social workers in the schools.
Picketing started about 6:30 a.m. at the various schools.
"Our demands are significant, and we have real demands, but that's because the needs are significant," Sharkey said. "We ask a lot because we get a lot."
Teachers chanted "Whose schools? Our schools" and "Lori Lightfoot, get on the right foot."
Cars honked in support of the teachers.
Sawyer Elementary School has one of the largest immigrant communities in the district but teachers there say they need more social workers to help the students.
"In the past, we've had students hit by a drunk driver or be deported and their classmates wren't able to see a social workers," second-grade teacher Paula Sontag said.
She said she's picketing because "students need to be treated holistically, and we're fighting for the resources other kids in the city and in other districts get to enjoy."
Chicago teachers went on strike for similar reasons in 2012 when then-Mayor Rahm Emanuel took office.