Teacher Delegates Vote To Strike October 11
By Jim Vail
Special to Chicago News
Special to Chicago News
What can you expect October 11th if you are a Chicago Public School (CPS) parent?
You may see your beloved teachers carrying signs, picketing in front of the school and not enter to teach the children. That’s because 95% of the teachers voted a second time to go on strike because the city and teachers have not agreed on a new contract.
“The goal is to land a fair contract without going on strike,” Chicago Teachers Union Vice President Jesse Sharkey told the delegates who voted on Wednesday to set the strike to begin October 11. “But we’ll strike if we have to.”
So, it is possible for Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the Chicago teachers to come to an agreement in the next two weeks and thus avoid a strike.
However, that seems almost impossible as the mayor seems to be taking his orders from a business class that is set on enforcing austerity on the schools and teachers with over $300 million cuts that have increased class sizes, laid off many teachers and privatized various jobs and services.
Why a Strike?
According to the Chicago Public Schools, there was a $300 million deficit and cuts had to be made to balance the budget. Those cuts include no longer paying into the teachers’ pension fund, cutting positions and increasing health care costs.
The CTU claims it does not want any cuts. The teachers say they want to restore their lane and steps which guarantee a modest raise each year according to experience and credentials, keep up with the cost of living and not see any health care cost increases (CPS proposes to double the cost). The union also says they want job protections against school closings, lower class sizes, less standardized tests and a more fair evaluation system known as Reach.
“What we’re asking for is very reasonable,” Sharkey told the delegates.
(Full disclosure, I am a teacher and delegate to the Chicago Teachers Union.)
Where is the Money?
The CTU says the money is there in the form of surplus funds from the Tax Increment Financing (TIF). They say it is enough to not have to make the cuts to the schools and teachers. The majority of aldermen have signed on to support the Chicago Public Education Revitalization Ordinance, sponsored by Aldermen Sue Garza (former CTU member) and George Cardenas, which would provide the Chicago public schools up to $150 million.
However, the mayor has made no offer to part with this money that the union believes is too difficult to give up since it represents a slush fund that the mayor can hand out to those he made promises to in the past election.
Former Mayor Richard Daley had provided TIF surplus funds before when the teachers complained earlier about the city not supporting its neighborhood cities. Apparently, the current mayor does not have the power to restore these funds and thus a strike to release them.
How Long a Strike?
How long the strike will last if it goes ahead is anybody’s guess. The union is telling its teachers to prepare for the long-haul since this is a fight “to save public education.”
The last teachers’ strike in 2012 lasted 7 days and quickly ended when both sides came to an agreement. The strike appeared to the public to be a clash between two fiery personalities – CTU President Karen Lewis and Emanuel.
However, today is different. The fiery rhetoric is long gone between two powerful individuals who have taken a step down from on high. Lewis was ready to become the next mayor after leading the successful teachers strike four years ago, but was then diagnosed with a brain tumor and had to fight for her life. She is almost fully recovered today, but physically half the person she once was back then. Emanuel was riding high after being elected the heir apparent to the Daley dynasty and immediately went to war with the CTU, saying the kids “got the shaft” and “f$% you Lewis.” Today he is half the politician after anti-police protests demanded he resign. Both, however, are still tough as nails when it comes to representing their respective interests.
The CTU warns it could be a longer strike – two to four weeks - if Emanuel and the City Club refuse to give in and restore the cuts and agree to the teachers’ demands.
“As a strike goes on the political pressure grows on the employer and the employer has to give in to our demands,” Sharkey told the delegates.
But not so easy when you have a business class that tells the mayor what to do, and owns most of the media that will report in its favor. Already the Chicago Tribune and Sun-Times have written editorials saying the teachers should make concessions.
And charter schools that the union would like to put a halt to because they replace public schools with mostly non-unionized privately-run schools that receive tax dollars, are already working with the city to discredit the teachers when they planted some parents outside the delegates meeting on Wednesday demanding no strike. CPS is also cutting the charter school budgets and the infamous UNO charter operation may see its own teachers walk out of classes.
What about the kids?
CPS has anticipated the strike and authorized $15 million to house and feed the students in contingency centers. Most children stayed home during the previous strike.
Lewis told reporters after the delegates voted for the Oct. 11th strike date that her message to parents would be to put pressure on the politicians to pass the TIF surplus funds ordinance and be a part of the fight to save their public schools from the devastating cuts.