In Chicago’s City Hall, there’s a big room behind the city council chambers that aldermen move in and out of during meetings.
Some take phone calls. Others chat with fellow aldermen, and others get stopped by reporters who want to get a quick question in before the alderman returns to his or her seat.
During Wednesday’s City Council meeting, reporters were only asking about one thing: the teachers strike.
The Chicago Teachers Union began the strike on Monday after nearly five months of negotiations failed to yield a contract. The strike has left more than 350,000 students out of class.
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel has criticized the union, calling the strike avoidable.
Responding to reporters questions, Ald. Bob Fioretti (2nd) agreed the strike was avoidable but said city leaders started it when they “demonized our teachers.”
1st ward Ald. Proco Joe Moreno (1st), on the other hand, has sided with the city’s negotiators since the strike began.
Moreno said the city is offering a “fair deal” to the teachers union when it comes to teacher evaluations and teacher rehiring. Emanuel has called those two issues the major sticking points yet to be resolved.
Moreno said he has been hearing from more and more constituents who are siding against the union.
“The more that my parents and others in the ward are hearing about the deal and then looking at the actual details, they’re saying, ‘you know this looks like a pretty good deal,’” Moreno said.
Ald. Tom Tunney of the 44th ward says he has heard from constituents on both sides of the strike. Tunney said he’s happy he is not at the negotiating table because “it doesn’t sound pretty" and added the strike is another flashpoint in the national debate over public employee unions.
“This is really what I call our Wisconsin moment here in Chicago,” Tunney said, referring to the showdown between Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and unions in 2011. “The issues are much bigger than the teachers. It’s about union movement and respect for [them] and also the financial realities we have as a city.”
Tunney says those financial realities ultimately means consolidation in public schools, and he added he would be concerned if he were a teacher.
The union has said they expect as many as 100 public schools to close in the future, so they are asking that laid-off teachers be given priority when new jobs become available.
Emanuel has said principals need complete discretion in hiring because only then can they be held accountable for how their schools perform, but union members say they need job security.
Ald. Ray Suarez (31st) said he has also been hearing from parents in his West Side ward about job security.
Suarez said constituents are very upset about the teachers strike.
“As time goes by, a lot of these parents are having to stay home. Some of them, they may lose their jobs,” Suarez said, adding his constituents want a quick resolution to the strike.
Ald. Anthony Beale (9th) said his constituents on the South Side don’t care about the issues behind the strike. He said they just want the strike to end so their kids can return to class.
Beale said he does not care either what the outcome is of the contract negotiations.
“I could care less,” Beale said. “Get the kids back in the classroom.”
Beale said all alderman can do is put public pressure on both sides to reach an agreement.