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Sen. Elizabeth Warren Joins Striking Chicago Teachers on the Picket Line

Massachusetts Senator and presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren visited striking Chicago education workers on a picket line at Oscar Depriest Elementary School in South Austin on the city’s West Side Thursday morning.

Senator Elizabeth Warren waves to a crowd of striking education workers in front of Oscar Depriest Elementary School in Austin. Photo by Aaron Cynic.

“I’m here to stand for every one of the people who stand for our children every day,” Warren told a crowd of hundreds assembled outside the school. “Everyone in America should support you in this strike. When you go out and fight, you don’t just fight for yourselves, you fight for the children of this city and this country.”

Chicago teachers and support staff began their strike last week on Thursday morning. Four days of classes have been cancelled since the strike began, and hopes for a quick resolution seem to have been dashed according to CTU President Jesse Sharkey in the wake of a public letter to the union by Mayor Lori Lightfoot.

“We are likely not going to see a quick settlement to the ongoing strike,” Sharkey told reporters at a Monday night press conference.

The CTU represents some 25,000 teachers while the Service Employees International Union Local 73 represents around 7,000 school support staff including custodians, security officers, bus aides, and special education assistants. Both unions are striking for smaller class sizes, more resources in the classroom, better staffing, and better wages.

Striking Chicago education workers on a picket line at Oscar Depriest Elementary School in Austin. Photo by Aaron Cynic.

Mayor Lightfoot’s letter encouraged the union to end its strike and to go back to work while bargaining without a contract. “The students and families of Chicago cannot afford to be out of school for any longer, which is why we are asking you to end the strike and encourage your members to return to work while bargaining continues,” wrote Lightfoot.

In a statement Monday evening, the mayor said that “real progress has been made on the key contract issues that CTU identified.”

Lightfoot’s letter did not resonate well with workers on the picket line. “I don’t know how many of you read that letter but it just pissed me off,” said Tara Stamps, who added that Lightfoot “forgot her promise” to Chicago teachers during the mayoral election.

Warren didn’t tell reporters directly when asked if she had spoken directly with Lightfoot, and instead said she would like to “give cities like Chicago a good federal partner.”

Senator Elizabeth Warren poses for a selfie on a picket line at Oscar Depriest Elementary School in Austin. Photo by Aaron Cynic.

“What we need to do is we need to ask those at the very top to pitch in a little more so that we can actually make the investments in every single child in this country,” said Warren. “That’s how we build a future.”

Warren isn’t the only presidential candidate to show support for the union in recent weeks. Senator Bernie Sanders rallied at the Chicago Teachers Union hall in September just before the union voted to authorize the strike.

“What we are seeing is teachers standing up and fighting for justice,” Sanders said at the time.

Senator Bernie Sanders speaks to a rally for teachers at the Chicago Teachers Union Hall in September. Photo by Aaron Cynic.

Former Vice President Joe Biden also tweeted his support for the strike last week. “Proud to stand with @CTULocal1, @SEIU73, and every teacher and support staff member striking today for better staffing and quality schools for our students,” he wrote. “It’s time we support all workers with the pay and dignity they deserve. #FairContractNow”

Back on the picket line at Oscar Depriest, Warren extolled the power of unions.

“Unions are how we have a voice, how we have power,” Warren told the crowd. “The unions are how we make sure that the needs of every one of our children are heard loud and clear.”

Senator Elizabeth Warren takes questions from reporters after rallying with striking Chicago education workers. Photo by Aaron Cynic.

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