The Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) commenced their first education strike in a generation last ight, with 29,000 teachers and school personnel walking out and taking up picket lines.
“Rahm says cut back, we say fight back,” picketers dressed in red T-shirts chanted this morning outside Chicago Public Schools headquarters.
Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis announced late Sunday night that weekend talks had failed to resolve all the union’s issues. “We have failed to reach an agreement that will prevent a labor strike,” she said. “No CTU members will be inside of our schools Monday.”
After an all-day negotiating session Sunday, school board President David Vitale told reporters the district had changed its proposal 20 times over the course of talks and didn’t have much more to offer.
“This is about as much as we can do,” Vitale said. “There is only so much money in the system.”
For those of us catching up to this story, PCCC has a backgrounder. The union has outstanding issues over what they describe as compensation, jobs security and resources. The Chicago Public Schools (CPS), the lead negotiators with teachers, agreed to a four percent raise back in 2011, but Mayor Rahm Emanuel (who hand-picked the board) canceled it to close a budget deficit. CPS claims to have restored the 4% annual raise over the four-year contract, but they also want longer school days (meaning the same pay for more hours), and they rejected a proposal from the CTU that would have capped class sizes. CTU President Karen Lewis said the two sides are not far apart on compensation, but they want to maintain existing health benefits, whereas CPS wants to slash them.
There are also issues with a set of education reform measures that Mayor Emanuel wants to install in this contract. The teacher evaluation piece, based heavily on student test scores, could lead to the firing of 6,000 teachers within a year of implementation. In addition, Emanuel is seeking to take some money from the public school system to devote to charter schools. Finally:
Powerful Outside Interests Worked With Rahm To Cripple CTU’s Ability To Strike (They Failed): Last year, outside groups education privatization groups like Stand for Children worked with the city council and mayor to raise the strike threshold limit to 75 percent — meaning that 3/4 of teachers had to vote to strike. Jonah Edelman, who works for the group, bragged during the Aspen Ideas Festival that they had essentially eliminated teachers’ ability to strike. But in June, nearly 90 percent of CTU members voted to authorize a strike, easily surpassing the barrier that the city and education privatization groups had placed on them. But outside groups haven’t stopped taking aim at union rights. They’ve even paid protesters to demonstrate against CTU.
Chicago Public Schools has opened 144 of its schools (there are about 675 public schools in the city) for a half-day as part of a contingency plan, but will urge their parents to keep the students out (they’re basically open as glorified day care centers, with free breakfasts and lunches and independent reading or writing activities). There are already 118 charter schools in the city which will be unaffected by the strike action.
Teachers have expressed a feeling of being bullied throughout the negotiation process, and given that the other side consists of Rahm Emanuel and his handpicked gang of school board members, you could hardly predict that, right? Meanwhile, Emanuel, with a bitter teachers strike and major gun violence happening under his watch, is also beginning to fundraise for Obama-aligned SuperPACs. Because he has the time.
This is part of a larger effort around national reform groups which have a goal of reducing the voice of teachers unions in the education sphere. The CTU strike is a serious test of whether the teachers can notch a victory in what has been a gradual slide toward the so-called reformers in Chicago and throughout the country.
UPDATE: Sen. Dick Durbin urged both sides to get back to the bargaining table today. I would imagine the other famous Democrat from Illinois will get asked about this at some point, and given the uneasy union/reformer relationship, and where President Obama usually falls on that question, that should be a tricky question for him to field.