Schools will be closed today in Chicago where teachers are striking for the first time in 25 years.
Chicago schools, which only opened last week, are operating on half-day schedules, although parents are being urged to keep their kids home. Students will spend time on independent reading or writing as state law doesn’t allow Chicago schools to offer classroom instruction without certified teachers.
There are clearly legitimate issues in Chicago but a strike won’t win the city or the union any friends.
Here is a good Chicago Tribune story on the strife. This is only an excerpt. Please try to read the full piece before commenting:
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.”
The district said it offered teachers a 16 percent pay raise over four years and a host of benefit proposals. “This is not a small commitment we’re handing out at a time when our fiscal situation is really challenged,” Vitale said.
Lewis said the two sides are close on teacher compensation but the union has serious concerns about the cost of health benefits, the makeup of the teacher evaluation system and job security.
Contract talks started in November but had accelerated in recent days as Vitale, who brokered teacher contracts in 2003 and 2007, came to the table in an attempt to bridge the divide. CPS submitted new contract offers to the teachers union on Friday and Saturday, but neither was accepted. A teachers strike is fraught with political peril for [Mayor] Emanuel and CTU leadership. Both risk angering thousands of working parents now scrambling to find places for children
A strike is a strong rebuke by teachers of Emanuel’s aggressive approach to school reform, union leaders said. Shortly after Emanuel took office in May 2011 he eliminated a teacher pay hike to close CPS’ hefty budget deficit and pushed to lengthen what had been among one of the shortest public school days in the country.
Emanuel made a longer school day a centerpiece of his reform efforts for CPS and built momentum by offering cash incentives to schools whose teachers defied the union by voting to opt out of their contracts and extend the school day in the 2011-12 year, a year before it would be implemented districtwide. Emanuel’s tough talk on education reform and his willingness to work with national groups whose reform efforts undermined organized labor galvanized the teachers union and its members.
The district negotiated while trying to deal with its own severe financial woes. A $5.73 billion budget for 2012-13 emptied cash reserves to cover a $665 million deficit, and the school board also increased its share of the Cook County property tax by as much as the law allows. A district spokeswoman said each percentage point hike for teacher salaries would cost $20 million.
A strike was authorized by more than 90 percent of the union’s 25,000-plus members in a vote in June. The union easily passed the bar set by a new state law that requires 75 percent of union members to authorize a strike — a standard those behind the legislation thought would effectively eliminate the threat of a teachers strike.
With momentum on their side, teachers demanded higher pay for working the longer day, entering negotiations demanding what amounted to a 30 percent raise over two years. But as contract talks heated up, union leaders made clear they would accept a smaller raise in exchange for less restrictive job evaluations and for establishing a recall procedure for teachers who’d been laid off as a result of school closings, consolidations and turnarounds.
The union’s salary demands were bolstered by an independent fact-finder’s report in July that chastised CPS for extending the school day in a time of financial turmoil and without adequately compensating teachers. The arbitrator said teachers should receive raises between 15 and 20 percent, far above the district’s 2 percent offer. CPS officials warned that substantial pay hikes would force deeper cuts in staffing and programs.
A week after the arbitrator’s report, CPS and the union brokered a deal that appeared to remove the biggest obstacle in the labor fight. In exchange for the longer school day — an additional half-hour in high schools and 75 minutes in elementary schools — CPS agreed to rehire nearly 500 teachers in non-core subjects from a pool of teachers who had been laid off. That kept the hours in the work week the same for full-time teachers.
Both sides hailed the agreement as a “breakthrough” and credited it with refocusing efforts at the bargaining table. Moreover, it seemed to set the stage for the kind of compromise needed to reach agreement on the full teachers contract. It didn’t work out that way. Upset to learn that the new rehire pool would be a one-year fix to address the longer school day and not part of the district’s long-term plans, the union grew increasingly combative in public.
–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog