CHICAGO, September 18, 2012 — Chicago teachers, other public employee union representatives, community activists, Occupy Chicago members, and students held a rally yesterday outside Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s office. The teachers and their supporters are angry over the contract hammered out by the Chicago Public School System (CPS) and the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU).
They are upset that the union and CPS want a decision immediately on the framework of the contract and for an end to the strike. As one person stated “the paper was still warm when we got it”. The framework is described as a 25-30 page outline, not the whole contract.
Over one hundred people packed the lobby outside the mayor’s fifth floor office. There was animosity over the mayor’s decision to seek a court injunction to end the strike. CPS submitted a 700-page document to the courts outlining their reasoning why the strike was illegal. The judge refused to issue a ruling immediately, putting it off until Wednesday. He maintained that if the strike were over by then, as is hoped, the issue would be moot.
It appears there is a faction of the union which is dissatisfied and believes CTU president Karen Lewis sold them out. There is a lot of anger over some of framework’s provisions. Delegates said they are going to pore over each and every word. “Every ‘i’ should be dotted and ‘t’ crossed.” It is hard to determine if this is a stalling tactic to continue the strike or a legitimate concern by delegates.
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel made a good case for ending the strike and returning the children to school. Karen Lewis also thinks the contract is a fair one and the best the union could get under the circumstances; so she says.
There are many delegates and rank and file members who are described as activist or socialist, some even writing for socialist and far left-wing blogs and publications. There are claims this overt activism created problems at the bargaining table. Some activists are high-ranking members of the union. Some activists participate in or helped start the Occupy Chicago movement. Occupy Chicago supported the CTU with protests last year over school closings. Many were present at strike rallies.
The Chicago Tribune reports that at the bargaining table some delegates pushed back against Karen Lewis, demanding more concessions from the school system. At the end of the day this strike boils down to who will run Chicago schools: the CPS, the union, or some hybrid partnership. It is all about power and the old way of doing things.
With all the national publicity the strike has engendered it may take on a life of its own. Unions from across the country are supporting the Chicago Teachers Union. SEIU is set to walk out on CPS this week. They represent maintenance workers in the school system. The Chicago Police and Fire unions are also supporting the strike. They have been working under expired contracts. They are next to negotiate with the city, though the law prohibits them from striking or taking any type of job actions.
One of the biggest issues to settle is the high expectations of union members, fueled by inflammatory rhetoric by Karen Lewis, activist delegates, other local and national public employee unions, and criticism of the union and Ms. Lewis by the mayor. There is a perception those expectations have been dashed. The union activists, fired up by rhetoric and resistance from City Hall, sought a pyrrhic victory. It appears water was thrown on the pyre.
The Chicago School System faces serious deficits - up to a billion dollars next year. Any new contract with pay raises and benefits will just exacerbate the fiscal situation. There are reports that over 100 schools may have to close in order for the system to get its house in order. This is also a concern for the union as teachers might be unemployed if there are not enough positions in other schools to hire them.
Taxpayers are already shouldering a high burden for inefficient antiquated methods of municipal operations. To burden them more would create a tax and voter backlash. The business community, no matter their political alliances, would join in too. A well-funded backlash is the last thing Chicago politicians want to face.
There is also a movement, locally and nationally, to institute more charter schools in Chicago. This is a sore point with the teachers as charter school teachers are not unionized. CPS claims charter schools provide better education at lower costs. A larger issue is over eventual privatization of some schools, which many teachers fear is the wave of the future for public education systems.
It should be noted that parochial schools in Chicago provide a higher quality education at roughly one third the cost of the Chicago Public School system. Many parochial schools have long waiting lists. Parents sign their children up when they are toddlers. There is also a growing home school movement in Chicago.
This strike was not about pay and benefits. It was not about bargaining in good faith. It was not about the children or education. This strike was a publicity stunt by teachers and other public employee unions against fiscal reforms, efficient government systems, including schools. They took advantage of the Wisconsin public employee movement and its resultant national publicity.
The strike was an attempt to gain notoriety and mass publicity. When it is settled the teachers and other public employee unions will take their road show to another town.
The Chicago Teachers Union had their day in the sun. They had their right to protest and strike. They got their national publicity. They got what they wanted. They bargained and got the best deal possible. Now, it is time to end the strike and put the kids back in the classroom.
It is all about the children right?
Peter V. Bella is a retired Chicago Police Officer, freelance journalist and photojournalist, cook, and raconteur. He likes to be the irreverent sharp stick that pokes, prods, and annoys. His opinions are his and his alone. Mr. Bella is a member of the National Press Photographers Association and the Society for Professional Journalists.
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