At 6:30 a.m. today the Chicago Teachers Union will officially go on strike for the first time since 1987, affecting about 404,000 Chicago Public Schools students and 26,500 teachers. Both Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis said they expect a return to the bargaining table today.
However, the two sides may not be close to reaching a deal.
According to Lewis, there is disagreement on several issues including compensation, health benefits, teacher evaluation procedures, job security, class size, more social workers and even the installation of air-conditioning in student classrooms.
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, though, claimed late last night at a press conference that the Chicago Public Schools and CTU are only sparring over two matters at this point – teacher evaluation procedures and the right for principals to hire and fire teachers. Emanuel accused CTU of launching a strike of “choice” and said that the strike was “no longer over financial issues.”
Emanuel dismissed other CTU concerns, such as class sizes, as settled matters.
On financial issues, there is, in fact, progress. Lewis said that, “Recognizing the Board’s fiscal woes, we are not far apart on compensation.” But Lewis then pointed out that, “We are apart on benefits. We want to maintain existing health benefits.”
At CTU headquarters late Sunday night, union members were mainly subdued in contrast to rallies held earlier this week and throughout the year. Members said they felt Emanuel and CPS have gone too far in pinning the district’s woes on teachers.
“We have had several negotiations over the past 24 years, but there always seemed to be an understanding that teachers are not the problem,” says Mike Murphy, a 24-year veteran teacher at Lyons High School. “This has shifted and CPS has become more combative.”
CPS will now launch its strike contingency plan for which 144 schools will open between 8:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. to provide breakfast, lunch and non-instructional activities as teachers hit the picket lines beginning early in the morning. Some neighborhood churches will also be acting as safe havens for CPS students.
Check back with Progress Illinois later today and throughout the week with more strike news and analysis.