Chicago teachers vote to end strike

September 18, 2012

(AP/File)
Teachers Union delegate Tennille Evans celebrates after the vote to suspend the strike.

Public school children in Chicago will go back to class Wednesday.

The governing body of the Chicago Teachers Union, its House of Delegates, has voted to end the first teachers strike since 1987. It lasted seven days.

Union President Karen Lewis said the union's 700-plus delegates voted 98 percent to 2 percent to reopen the schools.
 
"We said that we couldn't solve all the problems of the world with one contract," Lewis said. "And it was time to end the strike."
 
Chicago School Board President David Vitale pointed out the full membership of rank-and-file teachers must sign off on the contract deal, but he said he’s confident that will happen in the coming weeks.
 
“I’ve said many, many times to the press during this strike, ‘I hope our kids will be back in school tomorrow morning,’” Vitale said. “Tonight I get the chance to say they will be back in school tomorrow morning.”
 
After months of venomous back-and-forth between the CTU and City Hall, Mayor Rahm Emanuel softened his tone at a press conference Tuesday evening.
 
“This settlement is an honest compromise,” Emanuel said. “It means returning our schools to their primary purpose: the education of our children. It means a new day and a new direction for Chicago Public Schools.”
 
At a press conference after the vote, Mayor Rahm Emanuel called the settlement "an honest compromise."
 
"With this agreement, our teachers will receive higher pay and our students will have a higher standard of education," he said.
 
Teachers walked out last Monday after eleventh-hour negotiations failed to produce a contract agreement. The last contract expired at the end of June.

The two largest sticking points in contract talks were a new evaluation system linking teacher ratings to student performance and job security as the district continues to close poor-performing and under-enrolled schools.

On Friday, after a marathon week of negotiating, the union and Chicago Public School officials announced they had come up with the “framework” for a deal. The two sides planned to spend the weekend drafting the actual language of the contract to present to teachers on Sunday.  

Union delegates met late Sunday afternoon to review the terms of the possible agreement. Some expected the strike would be called off, but with the Jewish New Year approaching at sundown, delegates voted to continue the strike and take time to discuss the deal with rank-and-file teachers.  

The move prompted Mayor Rahm Emanuel to file legal action against the union that would force teachers back to school immediately. On Monday, a judge delayed a hearing on the matter until tomorrow.  

It also pushed some parents to the breaking point.

“On Sunday, when I was starting to prepare my daughter to go to school on Monday, I received the news from the CTU there’d be at least two more days. And I think I was just one of thousands of parents who just hit their cracking point,” said Steve Timble, whose daughter goes to Edison Regional Gifted Center.”

Timble organized an impromptu lunch-break protest outside the Merchandise Mart through the comments on the popular parent blog, CPSObsessed.

Two other parent groups—Raise Your Hand and the Black Star Project—also called on teachers to end the strike today and iron out the fine print with children back in class.

But other parents reiterated their support as recently as this morning.

“Our teachers are not taking this strike lightly,” said Becky Malone, a member of the group Parents for Teachers who has two children at Mt. Greenwood Elementary. “They want to make sure that all their i’s are dotted, and their t’s are crossed and they want to make sure that when this strike is over it is not in vain.”

After seeing the details of the possible contract, some delegates said they were disappointed.

"After all this, I feel like we haven’t addressed the underlying issues,” said Jeremy Peters, the delegate from Robeson High School. “I’m just worried that, as beat up and exhausted as the rank-and-file membership is, that we’re going to just accept this as like a token set of half-ass compromises.”

But he also said the contract is just the “opening salvo” in a “long, grueling battle” to address many of the problems that plague CPS.

The union and the school district, under the helm of Mayor Rahm Emanuel, have had a contentious relationship over the past year. An independent mediator that oversaw contract talks for a couple months called it “toxic.”

Shortly before Emanuel took office, he championed a state law passed last May that was supposed to make it more difficult for the teachers union in Chicago to go on strike. It required that 75 percent of the total eligible voting membership to be on board. Just before the school year ended in June, about 90 percent of teachers voted to authorize a strike.

The relationship between the mayor and the union quickly soured when Emanuel’s hand-picked school board voted to rescind the four percent raise teachers were supposed to get in the last year of their previous contract.

Emanuel also tried to push through his longer school day initiative by offering bonuses to teachers at individual schools who voted to waive certain provisions of their contract and add time to their work day. Thirteen schools voted to do so before the union filed a lawsuit against the school district.

The two sides started negotiating the new contract last November, but the union has alleged that district negotiators did not get serious until the final weeks.

—City Room and News Wires contributed to this report.

Correction & Clarification:
A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Steve Timble’s daughter went to Addison Elementary School. There is no Addison Elementary school. He said Edison Elementary School.
Also, an editing error had a quote by Mayor Rahm Emanuel as saying "With disagreement, our teachers will receive higher pay..." The article has been fixed to reflect the actual quote "With this agreement."