U.S. labor has been at forefront of the news recently, as the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU), along with the allied nonteaching staff from SEIU Local 73, will soon look to ratify a new contract with Chicago Public Schools (CPS). This follows the contract ratification between UAW and GM and a tentative Ford contract, all while pre-holiday unemployment has increased slightly to 3.6%.

This holiday season could offer a pay increase, workload reduction, and a social justice cornucopia for CTU teachers. However, the unelected CPS board has demoralized union members by earmarking $33 million for school police — a controversial campus militarization strategy in a city with a dangerous police brutality record.

The union, led by President Jesse Sharkey and Vice President Stacey Davis Gates, also fights multibillion-dollar real estate schemes, arguing for investment in public schools instead.

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot describes her first citywide budget as “zero-based” — “every line was essential to the core service mission of every department.” But Chicago has been rocked by police and real estate investment scandals, leaving residents asking after the definition of departmental “core service missions.”

A $33 million school police expenditure will continue to test national debate parameters when it comes to guns in schools, whether it's arming teachers, student resource officers, or actual local police “trained” for special school duties.

Union membership will vote on the tentative contract Nov. 14, leaving time to consider if its will be weakened by the CPS school-to-prison pipeline budget reinforcement that mandates: “...one key point of contact between the district and the police department and giving principals a role in selecting officers. It also orders special youth-specific training for school officers, and it formally lays out their roles and responsibilities.”

Contract change highlights include: a 16% raise over five years; a social worker and nurse in each school; 180 case managers/120 counselors; bilingual education support; $35 million for class size reductions; $5 million for a sports committee; no healthcare benefits changes; $20 million for Sustainable Community Schools; pre-K student/teacher ratios set a 1:10; by 2021, a ban on subcontracted support staff; $2.5 million annually for special education workload reduction; substitute teachers gains; sick day bank expansion; teacher and clinician evaluation changes; resource attention towards the neediest schools; various sanctuary schools measures; and a net-zero increase on board-authorized charter schools, with enrollments capped.

“No change” items include: prep time; grading, transfer, and assessment policies; and contract duration length remaining at five years, instead of three.

Mayor Lightfoot was victorious on teachers’ strike pay and lost make-up days, which stalled teachers’ return to their classrooms at the contentious final hour.

Lightfoot is more than on the hot seat here, as the CTU leads the nation in offering a labor model supporting students and families. 25,000 CPS teachers and their 361,314 students face impacts from social service cuts, homelessness, mass incarceration/police brutality, and deportation.

This can be referred to as the CTU social justice protocol, or “the new social unionism,” largely facilitated by the Caucus of Rank and File Educators (CORE). This is Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’ worst nightmare, too.

The CTU/CORE social justice focus conflicts with any CPS police program. CTU bargaining committee member Sarah Chambers, for example, works overtime in an ongoing #divestfrompolice campaign that recently protested a city budget meeting.

There are two overlapping things happening at once here: ongoing city budget debates, with approval pending by Dec. 31, and CTU/CPS negotiations with Lightfoot’s team.

The union-busting climate is maintained by an Illinois law that legislators are now redressing. It restricts bargaining to bread-and-butter demands like wages/ benefits and school days and year length.

Against these restrictions, affordable housing entered contract negotiations: at least 17,000 CPS students, or about 6%, are homeless.

Why should schools care if students are homeless? The K-12 teaching profession is populated by compassionate people, a majority of whom are women, who work with youth to make a difference.

Practically, homelessness complicates teaching and learning — influencing students’ grades, as sleep, food, hygiene, health, attendance, and schedule disruptions compromise classroom performance.

In a vicious cycle, low student test scores impact teachers’ evaluations. Low school performance can impact federal funding opportunities. The CTU has teacher evaluation grievance resources, and it supports “more procedural transparency, reduced workload (skip a cycle for highly rated), no VAM, and better appeals process” in a situation where “Black teachers are hit hardest by inequitable REACH evaluation procedures.”

There is less about evaluation processes in the tentative contract language, but CTU should be applauded for prioritizing students’ needs over teachers here by highlighting student homelessness — for example. This contract’s restorative justice and Sustainable Community Schools language can also contribute to higher morale.

Just imagine what $33 million could do towards CPS restorative justice programming or the Sustainable Community Schools investment for racial justice, the alternative to Lightfoot’s school-to-prison pipeline approach.

90% of majority-black CPS schools don’t have librarians, and the contract will establish pathways, but not financially-backed guarantees, to rectify this glaring discrimination. $33 million could concretize the tentative contract language under “Equity,” which states: “Directs resources to the neediest schools for staffing and class size relief.”

Or better, consider how $1.3 billion in public tax increment financing (TIF) revenue going toward Chicago’s 53-acre riverfront development Lincoln Yards could benefit schools and after-school programs.

The CTU is therefore battling blatant pro-business priorities: “Lightfoot has agreed to shift $160 million to schools by declaring a surplus on existing TIF districts. The union charges that she’s ‘clawed back’ $100 million of that by charging Chicago Public Schools for police services and pensions.”

To mitigate other real estate ventures, the contract notably halts charter school development. Last year, Chicago hosted the nation’s first ever CTU-backed charter teacher strike, which secured a contract that emboldened CTU members to ask for more this time around.

In implementation, more clarity will be achieved on the CPS’ commitment to bilingual education, and sanctuary/sustainable school status, training “staff on how to respond to ICE presence in schools and assist immigrant students. It will also allocate up to $200,000 annually to help employees navigate immigration issues.”

As of early November, politicians promised support on education bills addressing charter schools, revenue/TIF, the substitute teachers’ shortage, and: “[State Senate President] Cullerton, [State House President] Madigan, and [Governor] Pritzker said they all would be supporting the elected school board bill and supporting the removal of 4.5 [bargaining restrictions].”

Nov. 14 is an important day for those watching the public education “red wave.” It could become a social justice tidal wave.