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This week, Democrats are holding their convention in Charlotte. During that convention, there is little doubt they will be extolling the virtues of organized labor, especially government employees, with teachers likely getting top billing. Next week, the teachers in President Obama’s home city of Chicago have scheduled a reality check regarding such virtues: last Thursday, the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) announced they will go on strike beginning September 10th. “We have said from the beginning, we’re tired of being bullied, belittled and betrayed,” CTU President Karen Lewis told reporters.
According to the Chicago Sun Times, approximately 700 CTU delegates “thundered ‘aye’” last Thursday after Lewis put forward a motion to set the Sept. 10th strike date. When Lewis asked for “nay” votes the hall reportedly fell silent. Chicago Public School (CPS) officials responded by outlining consequences of the first teachers’ strike in 25 years, noting that 350,000 students would be denied an education, 11,000 athletes would be denied a chance to play varsity sports, and the transcripts and recommendations of 20,000 senior student would be “put on hold.”
As a result of the strike threat, CPS has come up with a contingency plan called “Children First.” The program will be put in place as “precaution,” according to CPS CEO Jean-Claude Brizard. It entails keeping 145 of the city’s schools open for half days–from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., according to a statement released Thursday. The Chicago Board of Education also authorized spending $25 million to keep those schools open, staffed by principals, assistant principals, central office employees, parent volunteers and other non-union staff. “Too much is at stake for our kids both inside and outside the classroom and that’s why we’re focused on reaching a fair contract for our teachers that keeps our kids in the classroom where they belong,” Brizard said.
CPS also sent a letter to the Illinois High School Association last Thursday to see if they could be granted an exception to the current bylaws that prohibit athletic teams from practicing during a strike, despite the fact that 90 percent of the athletic coaches are CTU members. Another series of messages was sent to parents, via letters, text messages, robo-calls and in a “tele-town hall” meeting to let them know that their children will still be fed, supervised and otherwise engaged if a strike occurs.
Yet the nature of that engagement reflects the overwhelming power of the teachers union. “While academic instruction will not be provided [because it’s prohibited by law during a teachers strike], students will participate in positive activities to keep them engaged,” said the CPS fact sheet. “Examples include arts, sports, journaling, independent reading and writing, puzzles and computer-based programs.” The fact sheet also notes that CPS will be coordinating with the Chicago Transit Authority and the Police and Fire Departments to “ensure safety and provide additional services.”
The issues are familiar. The union wants higher wages than the two percent the CPS is currently willing to pay, having lost a scheduled four percent pay raise negotiated last year. They are also working 10 extra days this year as part of Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s pledge to lengthen both the school day and school year. The CTU also insists on maintaining so-called “step and lane’’ increases based on seniority and extra credentials–even as they remain against bonuses for teachers who improve student test scores. The union also wants to be able to continue “banking” sick days that cost the system millions of dollars annually.
Moreover, the union wants teachers who have been laid off to be first in line for new jobs, as opposed to principals having the power to hire the best teachers available. The CPS agreed to hire 477 more elementary school teachers from a pool of recently laid-off teachers as part of a preliminary deal on how schools would handle the longer day this school year, but the union wants to expand that deal to cover every jobs slot that opens up. The union remains steadfast regarding this provision because it is likely CPS, due largely to budget constraints, is likely to close or consolidate schools that underperform, or don’t have enough students to be run efficiently. The union wants to make sure that its members who are laid off in the process don’t have to compete with anyone else for openings.
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