Q&A: Teachers union leader on bargaining for climate action

By Adam Aton | 06/20/2024 06:11 AM EDT

The president of the Chicago Teachers Union explains how climate change became a pillar of the union’s contract demands.

Chicago Teachers Union President Stacy Davis Gates speaks at a labor rally.

Chicago Teachers Union President Stacy Davis Gates speaks at a labor rally on Oct. 7, 2023, in Chicago. Jim Vondruska/Getty Images

The Chicago Teachers Union started contract negotiations last week with two unprecedented moves: It opened bargaining to the public and began talks by focusing on climate action.

Stacy Davis Gates, president of the CTU since 2022, sees both of those strategies as pillars of winning a better contract for teachers. Climate impacts like extreme heat are becoming a classroom issue. And they’re an even bigger issue for the surrounding community — the same people whose support the CTU needs to win a better contract.

Davis Gates was vice president of the union when, in 2019, teachers went on a 15-day strike before winning pay and benefits increases. She highlighted the city’s agreement in that negotiation to put a social worker in every school and sanctuary protections for immigrant students.


Now, Davis Gates is expanding that idea — known as “bargaining for the common good” — to include climate policies, like installing solar panels and heat pumps in schools.