With the Chicago Teachers Union strike spilling into its second week, Gov. Pat Quinn skipped across state lines today for a meeting of the Midwest U.S.-Japan Association in Minneapolis. The meeting involved Japanese business leaders “strengthening economic ties to Illinois,” according to a press release.
Despite signing into law major education bills integral to the labor standoff, Quinn has been on the sidelines for the first Chicago teachers strike in 25 years. Asked last week what the governor thought of the dispute, Quinn spokeswoman Brooke Anderson e-mailed that, “We want the parties to negotiate in good faith and reach a resolution quickly that puts the students first.”
The teachers' strike is often framed as a clash of two colorful personalities: Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and CTU President Karen Lewis. But as Progress Illinois has examined, it was the mild-mannered Quinn that signed in 2010 the Performance Evaluation and Reform Act before Emanuel was mayor and Lewis took over CTU. That measure drove the dispute over teacher evaluations and SB7, which Quinn signed into law one year later, and enabled Emanuel to push for a longer school day. The law also established a new Chicago teachers collective bargaining process.
The governor is no stranger to battling public employees unions, including CTU affiliate the Illinois Federation of Teachers, over proposed cuts in state worker pensions.
Quinn, though, has not talked about the strike as he continues on with his regularly scheduled public appearances. The governor was even at the Merchandise Mart in downtown Chicago Friday, the site of CTU headquarters, to announce a new education initiative. The state, Quinn said, would use $2.3 million in federal Race to the Top grant money, the Obama administration program that spurred the aforementioned new state education laws, to “better prepare thousands of Illinois students for careers in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) fields.”
Under the plan, Illinois businesses will coordinate with state agencies to build “learning exchanges” that provide vocational materials to Illinois high school students and those just out of high school. Steve Parrott, a principal consultant with the Illinois State Board of Education, says the exchanges would include e-learning curriculum resources and professional development for middle school and high school teachers and administrators. The learning exchanges will not be set up for a few months and Quinn’s press conference remarks were chock-full of general statements about science and math education helping the state’s economic competitiveness.
In fairness to the governor, several Democratic leaders, including President Barack Obama, are silent on the strike, perhaps not wanting to upset either Emanuel or the American Federation of Teachers.
This roster also includes Speaker of the House Mike Madigan (D-Chicago), an architect of SB7. Like Quinn spokeswoman Anderson, Madigan spokesman Steve Brown limited his strike comments to stating that the speaker hoped for a speedy resolution in the best interests of students. And U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, an Illinois Democrat and assistant Senate majority leader, deliberately avoided making a national issue over the walkout.
“I think what we need to do is solve the problem locally, and not let it turn into a national or an international event,” Durbin told The Hill. “This is only going to be solved at the table in Chicago.”
Democratic Congressional candidate Tammy Duckworth of Hoffman Estates, who is challenging U.S. Rep. Joe Walsh (R-McHenry) in the 8th district, took a slightly different tack in a Daily-Herald interview. Duckworth, who enjoys the support of both Emanuel and most of Illinois organized labor, said the strike was preventable and stemmed “from a failure on both sides.”