Quick Hit Matthew Blake Tuesday September 18th, 2012, 8:56pm

Chicago Teacher Strike Suspended, Students Back In Class Tomorrow

The Chicago Teachers Union House of Delegates voted today to suspend the first teachers' strike in the Windy City since 1987 and the first educator walkout in a major American city since the one in Detroit back in 2006. Classes will resume tomorrow for the first time since September 7. Seven classroom days will now have be made up as a result of the strike.

“We are teachers and we wanted to get back into the classroom,” says John Robertson, a CTU delegate from Gunsaulus Elementary Scholastic Academy. “I think our people have fought to get a good contract for our members.”

In a press conference this evening, CTU President Karen Lewis said the 850-member House of Delegates almost unanimously approved suspending the strike, just two days after they voted to extend the walkout. When asked what had changed, Lewis replied that delegates had a chance to read the tentative three-year contract, with the option of a fourth year, and share it with the teachers at their respective schools.

Delegates echoed this assertion. “Unions champion the importance of a democratic process,” says David Hernandez, a delegate at Social Justice High School in Little Village. “We finally had the opportunity to vet it among our membership.”

About 26,500 of the remaining CTU members will now formally vote on the contract over the next two weeks. Lewis and delegates interviewed tonight said that approval was likely.

The contract includes a seven percent raise over three years for teachers, with additional raises for seniority. Other key components include a new teacher evaluation system where, in their first year, instructors will be judged 70 percent on their classroom performance and 30 percent on student test score growth.

The contract also includes changes to the recall policy for tenured teachers and will keep the class size limit of 32 students for schools. The CTU Web site has an outline of the tentative deal.

In their remarks tonight, Lewis and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel each returned to their often competing visions of education policy.

Emanuel said in a prepared statement that “parents deserve a choice” when it comes to schools. The mayor, unsurprisingly, focused his prepared remarks on the longer school day that the contract codifies. Extending the school day to seven hours has been the central education goal of the Emanuel administration.

“Because of past contracts, teachers and principals had to make false choices about where they spent their time because there was so little of it,” Emanuel said.

In his remarks, the mayor alluded to a school system where 84 percent of the children come from low-income households. “Too many times I have met kids, whether on the 'El' or on the street walking to school, who have a look of emptiness in their eyes that no one would accept in their own child. Downtown, with all its opportunities and possibility, may only be a few miles away, but for too many kids it seems a world apart.” The mayor then pivoted to argue that education is the “only way” to “bridge that gulf” between “downtown and what they see in their future.”

Lewis said the strike and contract settlement was a victory against “so-called school reforms where billionaires get to make decisions about how public schools are run.” 

The union has been especially skeptical about reforms to teacher evaluations and the closing of neighborhood schools for alternatives, like charter schools. 

“We are trying to have people understand that when people come together to deal with problems of education, the people that are actually working in the schools need to be heard,” Lewis said.

Comments

The next assignment for the union is to ORGANIZE the non-union charter and private schools.

Negotiating contracts and settling grievances are only two of the three tasks union do. The third job is organizing the unorganized.

The charger and private schools operate in the same environment as the public school teachers and unless and until they are represented by a union the teachers at the public schools will be constantly fighting an uphill battle. Seeing it reported how poorly paid the teachers are at the charter schools sounds like they would benefit from a union.

But these teachers had better be careful if they talk about joining the union - the principal will rule them 'incompetent' and replace them with somebody who isn't so anti-boss.

Bob Kastigar
IBEW Local 1220, Chicago

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