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Chicago teachers clash over tentative deal

By Jesse Sharkey, CTU delegate, Senn High School | September 1, 2007

CHICAGO--Some 800 delegates representing 600 Chicago schools and citywide positions met September 1 to discuss a tentative agreement negotiated by Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) President Marilyn Stewart and her team.

During the stormy three-hour meeting, delegates criticized and loudly booed the deal for its length (five years) and failure to win a daily prep period for elementary teachers. The proposed contract also generated heated discussion on health care premiums, which would be frozen for three years.

Though the proposed deal is probably the best in several contracts in terms of raises (4 percent a year, three extra steps) and job security provisions, it failed to address growing frustration among teachers who had hoped to make up for years of building pressure on the profession.

For example, several delegates spoke about being under pressure to raise test scores and frustrated by over-sized classes. The contract allocates just an extra $50,000 a year to reduce class size, while the city has pledged $500 million to make a bid for the 2016 Olympic Games.

The CTU leadership helped raise expectations with early talk about striking and a two-year-long contract campaign, during which 100 contract demands were collected from rank-and-file teachers. But at the delegates' meeting, it became clear that few of those demands had made it into the proposed contract.

With the hour getting late, President Stewart called a vote on the tentative agreement, and just a few minutes into the count, she declared that the contract had passed. There was no actual count of the "yes" votes, no announcement of the total votes, and no one was given a chance to vote "no."

The room erupted in anger, with delegates shouting for a "roll call" vote or simply standing on their chairs and shaking their fists at the podium. Angry members stormed downstairs to a press conference that Stewart had called and took it over, chanting, stomping on the tentative agreement and even setting it on fire. A video posted on the Internet gives a sense of the mood.

Now, the agreement will go to a vote in the schools, where members will have a chance to reject the tentative deal on September 10.

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