Chicago teachers to strike after talks fail
By Don Babwin / Tammy Webber - CHICAGO
10th September 2012 11:07 AM
Chicago's public school teachers will be on strike Monday morning for the first time in 25 years after their union announced that intense contract talks with the school district had failed over issues including compensation, health benefits and teacher evaluations.
The walkout was announced after months of talks between Mayor Rahm Emanuel, the school board and union leaders at a time when unions and collective bargaining have come under criticism in many parts of America.
More than 26,000 teachers and support staff are expected to hit the picket lines first thing Monday, while the school district and parents carry out plans for keeping nearly 400,000 students safe and occupied while classes remain empty in the coming days in America's third largest school district.
"This is a difficult decision and one we hoped we could have avoided," Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis said. "We must do things differently in this city if we are to provide our students with the education they so rightfully deserve."
Emanuel condemned the union's decision, calling the action "unnecessary" and "a strike by choice." He said the negotiations had come down primarily to two issues that he claimed could be resolved if the two sides kept talking, "given how close we are."
School board President David Vitale had first announced Sunday night that talks had broken off, despite the school board offering what he called a fair and responsible contract that would cover four years and meet most of the union's demands.
Lewis said she believed talks would resume Monday but a time had not been set for the sides to meet. She added that progress had been made but not enough to avert a strike.
Union officials said among the outstanding issues were district proposals for standardized student testing that would "cheapen" the school system and a teacher evaluation system that would cost 6,000 teachers their jobs within two years. Lewis said the union had won concessions from the district on other matters.
The district had been offering a raise of 2 percent a year for four years. The union called that offer unacceptable — particularly after Mayor Rahm Emanuel last year canceled a previously negotiated 4 percent pay raise, citing budget problems.
The union countered by asking for a 30 percent pay raise over two years, followed by a request for a 25 percent increase over two years. Just weeks ago, Lewis told delegates the union had adjusted its demand and was asking for a 19 percent pay raise in the contract's first year.
The union also has raised concerns about raises based on teacher experience and education. It said the district agreed to retain contract language allowing raises based on experience, called step increases, but would not actually pay the money now.
The strike is the latest flashpoint in a very public and often contentious battle between the mayor and the union.
When he took office last year, the former White House chief of staff inherited a school district facing a $700 million budget shortfall. Not long after, his administration rescinded 4 percent raises for teachers. He then asked the union to reopen its contract and accept 2 percent pay raises in exchange for lengthening the school day for students by 90 minutes. The union refused.
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