When a strike is called, students are the ones out. Was there no other choice in Chicago?

Striking Chicago teachers were ordered to walk picket lines at their schools this morning. (AP Images)

Striking Chicago teachers were ordered to walk picket lines at their schools this morning. (AP Images)

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

142 comments Add your comment

Teaching in Hell

September 10th, 2012
9:50 am

I wish we could! Our only option in GA is to quit! Teachers are no longer set up for success here….

Pluto

September 10th, 2012
9:54 am

Fire them all and replace with qualified non-union staff. This has really gotten ridiculous. Do they actually believe they are irreplaceable?

Pompano

September 10th, 2012
9:55 am

Wow – demand a 15% to 20% raise for working an extra half-hour per day??? Just shows how out-of-touch some Teachers groups are from reality – and from the private sector!

Teaching in Hell

September 10th, 2012
10:03 am

Dear Pluto,

Why hate on the people who are the first line of defense against ignorance in our country. You must also hate America. For our country to be successful, we need motivated, energetic and generally happy people teaching our youth. And many are irreplaceable. I guarantee you wouldn’t last a month in my classroom. Just as you’re username is now just a rock floating around in space, so will the Earth if we all continue on this trajectory of ignorance and teacher bashing.

Teaching in Hell

September 10th, 2012
10:06 am

Pompano- put in the amount of time as teachers do, be talked to by children the way teachers are talked to daily and draw the same salary for 6 months. I bet you’re point of view would change quickly.

skipper

September 10th, 2012
10:15 am

Unions have outlived their usefulness, but teachers are now forced (everywhere, but ESPECIALLY IN THE GHETTO AREAS….CHICAGO, FOR ONE) to be subject to abuse by uncaring students and parents. There is no easy answer, but until the overall culture changes in particular areas we have what we have. OK, crusaders, fire away, but a strike is not the way. Until the culture changes, we will have unhappy teachers, students who do not learn, and a baby-sitting service (thats right….that is what it has become) that tries to keep the lid on a boiling pot of our next generation of ghetto inhabitants. Thus, we will have strikes, non-productive kids, and all the other bad things associated with a failing culture!

claytondawg

September 10th, 2012
10:16 am

I know teachers there (as here) belong to unions. However, UNIONS are the culprits here, and not teachers. Teacher unions have always been a thorn in the side of rightness. The public–and rightly so–only sees the greed in teachers’ attitudes where “teachers” want more pay, better benefits, smaller class sizes, more control of their own classroom. To a teacher, it all makes sense, but the teacher unions create such a disingenuous atmosphere that begins and continues in a frenzy. It doesn’t take much to destroy morale for the typical teacher who has apathetic students, non-supportive administrators and parents. Nurses strike; pilots strike; bus drivers strike– just to name a few of our workers in society. I know I’ll be hit with a lot of flack with my last comment: Nurses, pilots, and bus drivers have to have an education; next to their parents, the students’ teachers are the most influential entity in the students’ lives.

Van Jones

September 10th, 2012
10:17 am

Teaching in He##, clearly you are in the wrong profession. And you pulled the 10:03 comment out of your backside. “Hate on…” Really? Do you say “ax” instead of “ask” too? Your students must be proud.

ps NOBODY is irreplaceable.

sneak peek into education

September 10th, 2012
10:23 am

Power to the people! I love the fact that the teachers are saying no to the bureaucracy that thinks they can ride rough shod over them with their bully tactics. For those who complain about teachers and their supposedly Cadillac benefits, you sound more like socialists with your whines of “it’s not fair that I have to work 200 hrs a week, with no benefits or holidays. Why should you have that when I don’t?” Instead, start campaigning to your employer for good benefits and a decent amount of vacation (ie 5 weeks like they do in Europe).

Teacher Reader

September 10th, 2012
10:25 am

I’ve lived through 2 teachers strikes as a child, and know teachers in Chicago, as I taught there. What the union is asking for is outrageous, but so are the demands of the Emmanuel Administration. Both parties are at fault here.

Having lived through 2 teacher strikes, the second being particularly nasty, I have no respect for teachers that strike. The strike effects the children, yet the teachers get their same pay, as they have to work the required days of the school year. I lost great respect for the teachers that went on strike while in high school as their higher salaries caused my family and many others in the small town great hardship. These teachers didn’t have over crowded classrooms or really unruly kids, as we were a small town with well less than 100 kids per graduating class.

Teaching in Hell

September 10th, 2012
10:31 am

Wow, the racist undertone in here is astounding! I’m in the right profession, but maybe not in the right city…Van, you’re correct, nobody is irreplaceable but the grass isn’t always greener on the other side. I’d love to see Chicago let all of these teachers go….pull in some scabs to run the schools. See where that gets the city that’s already has one of the highest crime rates in the US. You’ll have an education system with replacement teachers running as good as the NFL has for replacement refs. Nothing but bad calls.

teacher&mom

September 10th, 2012
10:45 am

teacher&mom

September 10th, 2012
10:51 am

Google “Rahm rents protesters”

Cutty

September 10th, 2012
10:52 am

I’m from Chicago, graduated from CPS. They have the shortest school day of any major school system in the country. Extending the school day by 30 minutes would only bring the school system on par with some districts. The teacher evaluations do seem cumbersome, as their performance is tied to student’s test scores (think NCLB). Couple that with only 60% of CPS students actually graduating from high school, and I think both sides are at fault. Stay at the bargaining table until a resolution is reached and students can get back to learning. Emanuel and the Unions look bad.

Pluto

September 10th, 2012
10:57 am

Dear Teaching in Hell
Why do the left leaning always paint with such a broad brush and act if they are the enlightened among us when in fact they tend to only read the party line talking points with no deviation. Contrary to your inflated sense of self purpose, teachers in Chicago average $76k before benefits. They turn down a 16% offer over four years and want more. I have little compassion for their greed.

Rockerbabe

September 10th, 2012
10:58 am

When you treat college education, certified, well-trained professionals as dirt beneath your feet and refuse to negiotate with them on all matters of concern, then this is what you get. Teachers have been on the receiving side of griping, mistreatment, layoffs, take-backs of salaries and benefits for years and it has reached the point of no return. The mayor of Chicago needs to been careful or he will find that teachers can and often do go elsewhere for job and career opportunities and often at substantially higher salaries. Using the kids as a battering ram against their teachers only creates resentment and a desire to go elsewhere.

Dr. Monica Henson

September 10th, 2012
11:13 am

The 40,000+ kids in Chicago’s charter public schools are in class this morning with their teachers on the job.

Mortimer Collins

September 10th, 2012
11:14 am

Terminate them. Terminate everyone of them immediately.

Teaching in Hell

September 10th, 2012
11:23 am

Pluto: Have you ever been to Chicago, ever tried to live there? Its expensive! Illinois taxes are expensive! Being a teacher is expensive! I spend around 2k on my students a year….supplies, covering field trip expenses, buy clothes for those who need it…and I’m not making anywhere near 76k, not even close! Many teachers do the same….with the number of cuts over the last few years we have no choice but to spend our own money to make our classes work.
As far as sticking to a party line you said fire them all and replace them with non-union staff….doesn’t take much to figure out your affiliation.
This is MY opinion. I do not represent any political party….political parties do nothing but divide.

Maureen Downey

September 10th, 2012
11:26 am

@Dr. Henson, To that point, 118 of Chicago’s 681 public schools are charters and those teachers are not under the union contract so they are in class today.
Maureen

bootney farnsworth

September 10th, 2012
11:30 am

I can see both sides:

in a practical sense, a strike now makes best strategic sense. it’ll put pressure on the city they’d not have had during the summer.

that said, while I support the right of teachers to unionize, they do fill a unique niche in society and should not have been allowed a strike during the school year option.

Teaching in Hell

September 10th, 2012
11:32 am

Dear Mortimer,

Are you referring to the teachers or the corrupt political officials in Chicago? Also, when was the last time you were responsible for a room full of 35 children? Oh, never? You have no say.

bootney farnsworth

September 10th, 2012
11:34 am

@ claytondawg,

exactly what union am I in? since you KNOW we’re unionized, you should know which union it is.
not to mention who the Atl. chief is, and who the stewards report to.

be warned: this IS a trick question and I AM setting you up.

d

September 10th, 2012
11:35 am

I can only imagine if Georgia teachers were allowed to strike how many of us would be on the picket line right now….. that being said, claytondawg said that UNIONS are the culprit…. Who makes up the union? It is the teachers speaking with one UNIFIED voice. The NEA is not Dennis Van Roekel – math teacher from Arizona, or Lily Eskelson – cafeteria worker turned 4th-grade teacher from Utah or any of the other leadership. Although these individuals have been elected to speak on behalf of the over 3 million NEA members, they are members just like any other NEA member. Being able to speak out with one unified voice as a union is not the problem in education. Maybe what needs to happen is for some of the people in charge to start listening to the experts that are these union members about improving education and focusing less on the bureaucracy of central offices that create jobs for people who often (not always) could not handle the classroom. I am tired of being told I need to explain everything I am doing for someone who is observing me. If they can’t look at what I am doing and know what is going on, how can they effectively observe and evaluate the job I am doing?

bootney farnsworth

September 10th, 2012
11:37 am

over the last few years I have become convinced the vast majority of anti union posters fall into two categories

1-flaming trolls
2-rank jealously

Just A Teacher

September 10th, 2012
11:38 am

@Dr. Henson . . . Shame on those teachers in the charter schools for not supporting their brothers and sisters in education!

Kathleen Carpenter

September 10th, 2012
11:39 am

My sister and brother-in-law both teach in CPS schools. They are being held hostage by a union that is letting their pride lead the way. The district has made more than fair concessions and the teacher union president couldn’t even be found yesterday for negotiations. 4% pay raise a year for the next four years??? I know tons of teachers here in Georgia who would love that! You can’t have subpar performance, a terrific salary that rode on the backs of a good economy for years (and took advantage of that good economy) and expect not to be held accountable. There are good models for evaluating teachers that include student performance, but the union is adamant that they can’t include that in evaluations. When I was a teacher (in both an urban and suburban setting) I evaluated myself on my students’ performance, and never was satisfied unless they made progress under my watch.

The is a NO WIN situation. The union could have gotten some real public support by agreeing to the district’s 20+ offers yesterday.

bootney farnsworth

September 10th, 2012
11:41 am

historically, unions only rise in this nation when the balance between management and labor tilts badly out of balance towards management.

after a decade of wage freezes, furloughs, and skyrocketing benefits, combined with rampant cronyism and out of control spending…..anyone who is surprised to see rank and file allowing the unions to flex their muscles is blind or mentally defective

Pluto

September 10th, 2012
11:42 am

Teaching: I really don’t want to get into a pissing contest with anyone but playing the apolitical card just doesn’t cut it. Like it or not we are all political animals. As teachers, we try to best serve our students to prepare them for the “real world”. I teach physics and chemistry of all types and am told I am pretty good at it. I think a teacher who is so self-focused like those in Chicago is a sorry excuse for a teacher and should be axed. Lastly, if you wanted to be a more convincing passionate teacher, you might want to use proper grammar and syntax. There is a difference between a possessive and a contraction.

Teaching in Hell

September 10th, 2012
11:44 am

D, Bootsy-

GA teachers need a UNION! Sorry, Dr. T, but professional organizations just don’t carry the clout!

If there was a union here I wouldn’t have had to go through so much of the cr*p I’ve gone through in the last 9 yrs….

bootney farnsworth

September 10th, 2012
11:45 am

somebody go wake up Fran Millar. shame for him to miss his favorite type of fiction.

bootney farnsworth

September 10th, 2012
11:47 am

@ Teaching/hell

you caught me! do you teach at Ga. Prison Camp? there is only one Dr.T I know of…

bootney farnsworth

September 10th, 2012
11:50 am

for those who don’t know, Georgia Prison Camp became an underground reference to GPC during the worst of the Tricoli years.

Pompano

September 10th, 2012
11:54 am

@Teaching in Hell. If you really think a 20% raise is appropriate for simply adding an additional half-hour to the day (which brings them on par with the rest of the country), then you clearly are an example of the greedy, lazy government types that have destroyed education in this country. Sounds like our “first line of defense against ignorance” is actually fueling the flames of stupidity!

Teaching in Hell

September 10th, 2012
11:55 am

Pluto:

Calling me out on my grammar, seriously? You have no idea who I am yet you lump me into the category of”political animal”? Not me. I make my own educated decisions. I lean all ways and no ways at all. My decision today is one of support for the difficult decision the Chicago teachers made. I would hope, when the time comes, I can only be that strong.

Mortimer Collins

September 10th, 2012
12:02 pm

“Are you referring to the teachers or the corrupt political officials in Chicago?”

The nature of the blog subject is union teachers call a strike. Now you being a “teacher” should be able to distinguish, but for the record Im referring to terminating the teachers. They should everyone be terminated.

I guess your public sector exposure has somewhat dimmed the lights.

mountain man

September 10th, 2012
12:12 pm

“Fire them all and replace with qualified non-union staff”

Good idea. I know there are lots of competent teachers just yearning to go teach in inner-city schools. All you need is about 25,000 of them.

bootney farnsworth

September 10th, 2012
12:14 pm

God forbid workers try to make up lost wages.
I’m sure the noble private sector employees never try to leverage the most cash possible. they obviously work to serve the company, which is more important than they are individually

mountain man

September 10th, 2012
12:16 pm

“I think a teacher who is so self-focused like those in Chicago is a sorry excuse for a teacher and should be axed.”

Yes, heaven forbid a teacher should think of THEMSELVES. We only want unselfish martyrs who will take crap day after day, put up with no raises and furlough days that decrease their salary. We want teachers who think only of their students as they are forced to put up with discipline problems, attendance problems and then expected that the students who aren’t there will LEARN (Right PB&J?).

Teaching in Hell

September 10th, 2012
12:17 pm

Pompano-

Greedy? I wish! I make under 50k after 9 years.
Lazy? Nope! I coach, for free, an academic team at my school that is internationally renouned.

What’s killing education is the for-profit route that wants to limit public school students and have them pushing brooms.

Double Zero Eight

September 10th, 2012
12:18 pm

Both sides will compromise and the strike will
last about a week. It seems that the teachers are
equally concerned about evaluations/job security,
as they are about compensation.

I had to re-read the section regarding the budget,
to make sure I did not misread a 5.73 billion
budget for 2012-13. Wow!

Did you Know?

September 10th, 2012
12:24 pm

Chicago Public School teachers are REQUIRED to live in the city. The cost of living in Chicago is 13.8% higher than Atlanta, 21% higher than Macon. http://swz.salary.com/CostOfLivingWizard/Layoutscripts/Coll_Result.aspx . We have all witnessed the news reports about crime in Chicago, the schools represent a microcosm of society. Chicago has to offer higher salaries for “hazard and combat” pay.

When I lived in the Chicago Metro area, it seemed most of the CPS teachers I encountered had another job or owned rental properties to be able to live comfortably. Extending the school day has an impact on supplemental employment by teachers. Having visited many Chicago charter schools, I observed a few things-many of the teachers were “green” (no prior teaching experience or even internships) and I knew of none that had taught at the charter school (or charter schools in general) for more than 3 years. Many charter school models in CPS have very high teacher turnover and general teacher burn out; some of the charter schools are temporary stopping places until some teachers move on to something with higher pay and/or prestige. The vast majoirty Chicago teachers have never gone on strike their entire career.

Disclaimer for possible detractors to my personal observations: I have not ever taught in Chicago or Illinois.

Prof

September 10th, 2012
12:24 pm

@ Cutty, 10:52 am: “Stay at the bargaining table until a resolution is reached and students can get back to learning. Emanuel and the Unions look bad.”

I have to agree with this.

I have a close relative who’s been an educator in Chicago for a little more than 10 years, though not a K-12 one. I think one really has to consider here the great financial problems specific to the state of Illinois at this time. They’re about on a par with those of California. The state’s tax revenues have dropped precipitously. For the last four years, the state legislature has apportioned funds to the state University system…but hasn’t given them the money! There are severe budget cuts to all government agencies that make Georgia’s cuts look paltry.

This is the local context for the demands by Mayor Emmanuel and the teachers’ union. As I say, I agree with Cutty at 10:52.

Pluto

September 10th, 2012
12:42 pm

@ Teaching ” What’s killing education is the for-profit route that wants to limit public school students and have them pushing brooms.” , which way are you leaning now?
You know what they say about people who stand in the middle of the road, they get run over. As far as your (not you’re) grammar usage, like it or not people will judge your speaking/writing ability as a sign of your intelligence. Sorry

Pompano

September 10th, 2012
12:50 pm

@Teaching in Hell. You don’t see private Schools graduating students only capable of pushing brooms as they are held accountable by their customers (parents). Only the Public School Systems graduate alleged “Honor Students” that read & write at a six-grade level. Bet you’ve churned out a few of those during your career.

But, I guess when you’re clueless enough to demand a 20% raise for 30 minutes of work that you’re also the type to search for boogeymen under any rock. 20% raise – what selfish idiots!

Teaching in Hell

September 10th, 2012
1:15 pm

I’m leaning on the side that created public education so that everyone could have opportunity. Maybe if public education had resources and funding that private schools did we wouldn’t be in this mess in the first place. But hey, this is ‘Merica where we bloat the budget for administrators and shove kids into classrooms like cattle to the slaughter.

Pluto

September 10th, 2012
1:38 pm

Is that all you got Teaching? Pretty much what I expected. In an exchange of ideas you seem a bit overwhelmed.

Truth in Moderation

September 10th, 2012
1:50 pm

Rahm Emanuel’s children are in school today. They attend the “tony” Chicago Lab Schools, founded by “Mr. Public School” John Dewy! Of course, this school is PRIVATE and costs $23-$26 thousand per year. Mr. Emanuel, why don’t your public school reform mandates make all public schools look like the Lab School????????? Also, it looks like the charter schools are being used to do an end run around the teacher unions.
http://www.weeklystandard.com/blogs/chicago-mayors-kids-school-remains-open_652113.html

taco taco

September 10th, 2012
2:04 pm

I wish the teachers of Chicago the best of luck. APS has not given us a raise in 4 years and required to take 4 furloughs days this year. I am sticking it out until I can find employment somewhere else.

bootney farnsworth

September 10th, 2012
2:25 pm

@ pomp

one teeny, tiny, little trick.
private schools get to pick and choose who they accept
we don’t.

so your comparison is breakfast cereal to oil spills.