Chicago Mayor Emanuel forces city teachers to edge of strike, again

CHICAGO–Once again, combative Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel (D) has forced the city’s teachers, members of American Federation of Teachers Local 1, to the edge of a strike. And once again, the city is rallying to the teachers’ side.

Unless the city and the Chicago Teachers Union reached a settlement in talks over the weekend of Oct. 9-10, the union members were forced to walk out on the 11th. Doing so would mark the third such forced teachers’ strike in Chicago since Emanuel took office in 2011.

The looming forced strike followed a mass “walk-in” on Oct. 6 citywide, and in 34 other school districts in Illinois, supporting quality schools. Chicago’s walk-in included teachers, staffers, parents and students. They “demand the resources our children deserve,” CTU said.

And that afternoon, after the initial walk-in, the teachers fanned out into nearby neighborhoods to brief residents on the situation in the city’s regular public schools.

“We will take action to defend our schools from the board’s decisions that have resulted in larger class sizes, special education cuts and overworked school staff,” the union added. Emanuel hand-picked and dominates the city school board.

Key issues include Emanuel’s plan to cut teachers’ pay by another 7 percent — on top of previous slashes — and cuts in services students need, including a 20 percent cut in the number of counselors, nurses and psychologists at a time of record recent city murder rates. In August, the school board let 1,000 support staff go.

The union also released a report of $2 billion worth of school system privatizations gone wrong in the last decade, including janitorial services, cafeteria services and hiring temp nurses. And 27 percent — $161 million – of all taxpayer dollars allotted to the mayor’s highly touted “charter schools” went to administration and overhead.

 

All that forced a strike authorization vote by CTU members, the second this year, on Sept. 26. It passed, 96 percent-4 percent in a 91 percent turnout. Union members have been working for more than a year without a new contract.

 

The first of the three forced Chicago teachers’ strikes drew national attention, for the causes the teachers championed and for the huge community support the teachers mobilized.

Then, the teachers campaigned for a contract that would aid their students, most of them minority-group members, by restoring services ranging from special education to libraries, and for preserving schools as focal points for the city’s neighborhoods.

That strike also drew attention to Emanuel’s prior actions: Ordering the school district to be run like a business — the Superintendent is called a CEO — and closing 56 schools, all in low-income neighborhoods.

After the earlier strike authorization vote this year, CTU President Karen Lewis said city teachers “will be returning to work without a labor agreement amidst severe budget cuts and threats to their profession, income and benefits.

“Our members are returning to more than 500 school buildings that are filthy due to bad CPS (Chicago Public Schools) outsourcing, with contaminated pipes that may have exposed children and employees to lead poisoning, and in a climate where random gun violence and neighborhood conflicts have gripped significant parts of our city in fear,” Lewis said then.

“Our members are returning to campuses where their colleagues have disappeared, by no fault of their own, but because of mandates from the board that principals reduce positions and cut school budgets to the marrow. Fewer employees — including teachers’ aides — mean enormous class sizes. The more students in a classroom mean fewer minutes of personalized instruction for each student.”

Both city residents and other unions strongly support the CTU in its looming strike, just as they did several years ago. A coalition of more than 50 neighborhood groups delivered a pro-CTU letter to Emanuel’s office on Oct. 4.

“We, community, parent and neighborhood groups throughout the city of Chicago, support the Chicago Teachers Union’s demands for lower classroom sizes, funding for special education teachers, an end to the chaos of constant teacher and staff layoffs, no cuts in compensation, and for well-funded, quality, stable neighborhood schools,” the letter reads.

“The working conditions of our teachers are the learning conditions for Chicago’s children.” The coalition also launched a call-in campaign to inundate Emanuel’s office with phone calls supporting the CTU.

If there is no contract, “The group will take to the streets in support of the teachers,” the coalition said. Added Erica Clark, a member of one of the 50 groups, Parents 4 Teachers: “We think the mayor believes he can use the budget crisis to divide parents from their teachers, and we’re here to tell him, ‘That’s not gonna happen.’ He better think twice about pushing them out to strike again.”

Source: PAI