Rally brings local groups out for Chicago teachers

September 3, 2012

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(WBEZ/Becky Vevea)

Daley Plaza was filled with people in red shirts on Monday, carrying signs that read "Fair Contract Now" and "Parents and Teachers United." Parents, teachers and labor groups joined in support of the Chicago Teachers Union in its testy negotiations with Chicago Public Schools.   

Tim Libretti said the turnout shows that people do support teachers, even if the teachers sometimes seem on the wrong side of public opinion.

“I’m here for my two children,” Libretti said. “Their teachers are committed, talented people who care about my children. They’re the only ones advocating for good conditions and if [a strike] is what they have to do in the short term for a long term viable education in this city, then I support them.”

Many teachers said they do not want to strike and said they feel the situation could have been avoided.

“I’m concerned about a strike. I don’t necessarily want students to be out of school,” said Sonya Normant. “I’m a Track E teacher, so we’ve been in school for almost a month now, and [a strike] would hurt us as well because I would have to go back and revisit things that I’ve already taught to my students, but there’s a bigger issue at hand.”

Normant said she lived through two teacher strikes when she was a student in CPS in the 1980s. The last teachers strike in Chicago was in 1987 and lasted for 19 days.

Last year, Mayor Rahm Emanuel championed changes to state law that made it tougher for teachers to strike, including getting 75 percent of members to approve a strike. In June, 90 percent of teachers voted to give union leadership the power to call for a work stoppage.

The CTU and CPS have been negotiating since November. They continued to bargain through the holiday weekend, but no agreement has been announced. Last week, the union’s House of Delegates set a strike date for Sept. 10, one week into the school year for most CPS schools. 

Both parties have said they remain far apart on key issues.

“It seems like there is no middle ground right now,” said teacher Adam Norman. “But somebody’s got to buckle, and I think this looming strike might be the thing that pushes one side towards the middle.”

Schools chief Jean-Claude Brizard issued a statement shortly after the rally that said the district wants to “reach a fair agreement that recognizes (teachers) for their hard work” and avoids any disruptions to the school year.

Meanwhile, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel is scheduled to speak at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C. Tuesday night.

A few teachers at the rally said they thought Emanuel might get pressure from other Democrats to reach a deal with the CTU.

“I think that this probably should be an issue and they should put pressure on him to clean this mess up,” said teacher Daryl Stewart. “This shouldn’t be going on during the Democratic National Convention, not under a Democratic mayor.”