Members of the Chicago Teachers Union hit the picket lines early Thursday as more than 25,000 educators and support staff officially went on strike in the nation's third-largest district.
CTU's House of Delegates voted to reject the final contract offer from Chicago Public Schools during a meeting on Wednesday, paving the way for the organization's second strike in seven years.
"We went through, point by point, what's on the table so far and our delegates overwhelmingly, unanimously, reaffirmed that tomorrow will be the first day of a strike, because we have not achieved what we need to bring justice and high-quality schools to the children and teachers of Chicago," CTU President Jesse Sharkey said.
Prior to the final vote, CPS had already canceled all classes and activities for Thursday in anticipation of CTU moving forward with a strike.
"I was disappointed by the CTU's decision to begin a work stoppage and force a cancellation of classes," Mayor Lori Lightfoot said. "That's because I feel like we rolled up our sleeves and negotiated in good faith for a long period of time."
Sharkey said that CTU's bargaining team was not satisfied with CPS' final contract offer.
"The mayor wants a five-year contract. Many marriages don't last five years and I don't like this contract enough to marry it," Sharkey said.
But Lightfoot defended the contract offer, calling it an "historic" proposal that would have addressed the teachers' primary concerns.
"We offered an historic package on CTU's core issues like compensation, staffing, and class size," she said. "We reiterated our proposals were rooted in our admiration of the job that staffers and teachers do every day."
Negotiations between the two sides ended early Wednesday as both CPS officials and CTU representatives prepared for a strike vote, but Lightfoot hopes that both sides will return to the negotiating table soon.
"We will remain at the table, and we hope that CTU will as well," she said. "I hope this work stoppage will end soon. This has to be about our children."
Sharkey echoed similar sentiments in his speech, saying that he hoped the work stoppage will not be a prolonged one.
"We want to make this a short strike," he said. "We want to make this a strike that wins improvements for our schools, wins the dignity and respect for our teachers... so the ball's in her court on that now."
Teachers picketed schools in the district beginning at 6:30 a.m., with negotiations expected to continue Thursday morning as well.