The CTU steps up the fight
looks at the looming showdown between the teachers' union and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel.
A TEACHERS' strike in Chicago is looking more likely as school officials continue to demand concessions, while the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) is taking steps to prepare its members for a high-stakes showdown.
As this article went to press, members of the CTU House of Delegates voted overwhelmingly to give CTU President Karen Lewis the go-ahead to issue a required 10-day strike notice to the Chicago Board of Education.
Although the CTU membership overwhelmingly approved a strike authorization vote in June, this latest vote is another sign of CTU members' willingness to strike. "It says a lot about how our members feel and where they are right now," Lewis said. "They feel totally disrespected by how (the longer school day) has been rolled out."
Although the 10-day notice has not yet been issued and no strike date has been set, the move is one more sign that teachers could be out on the picket lines this fall--and that the union is making every effort to be ready.
"Union leaders will go back to their schools to share the Board's contract proposals with members and to discuss next steps. But we want our members prepared," Lewis said.
Four weeks ago, Chicago Public Schools (CPS) bowed to the demands of the CTU and agreed to hire nearly 500 more teachers to help staff schools for the longer school day. Since then, however, negotiations between the CTU and CPS have stalled.
The fact that CPS--controlled by Mayor Rahm Emanuel--decided to hire more teachers was an important victory for the CTU. It showed that the months of protest against an unfunded longer school day, as well as the threat of a strike, had not gone unnoticed by city officials.
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NEVERTHELESS, THE concession did not mark the end of the fight, as the attacks on teachers have continued, and the majority of the teachers' demands have still not even been considered. Despite several visits to the bargaining table, the gap between the two sides has shown no signs of narrowing since the start of August.
Still to be addressed by CPS officials are teachers' demands around salary and medical benefits. The city continues to offer only a 2 percent raise to CTU members, which doesn't even cover the four percent raise that teachers were supposed to have received last year as part of their previous contract.
Meanwhile, CPS is asking teachers to contribute significantly more to cover medical benefits than in the past. In the end, the increase in cost for medical coverage and the 2 percent raise would cancel each other out, leading in effect to no pay raise at all. At a time when CPS is asking teachers to work a longer school day and a longer school year, this translates to a decrease in hourly wages.
In addition, CPS wants to get rid of raises for "steps" and "lanes," a program where teachers are paid incrementally more for each year in the classroom and for each degree they attain. The program is meant to reward and compensate teachers according to their experience and their training. In its place, CPS is pushing a move towards merit pay and high-stakes evaluations, which devalue experienced teachers and put a greater emphasis on standardized testing. This push is not good for teachers or for students.
In a report released earlier this year, the CTU also raised demands around limiting class size, adequately staffing the schools, and addressing the severe inequality and segregation in the Chicago public school system. But because these issues are considered "permissive" subjects of bargaining, rather than mandatory ones, they can only be brought to the bargaining table if CPS decides to allow them.
Nevertheless, these demands remain integral parts of the fight for public education in Chicago, and have been a basis for solidarity between the CTU and the communities it serves.
Now, with less than two weeks before the first day of school, the city has stopped bargaining in good faith, and has resorted to slander campaigns and scare tactics to try to undercut the CTU.
Earlier this week, a leaked e-mail from CPS to public school principals revealed that CPS is encouraging principals to keep an eye out for union-related activities and to report any union activity as a "Harassment/Threat type incident."
Fortunately, the CTU's response has been far from passive. While CPS has ignored the proposals brought forward by the union and has resorted to fear-mongering, the CTU has been readying its members for the picket line.
While encouraging members to save up money over the summer, the CTU has also launched a solidarity fund. And this week, union members organized one-day informational pickets at every one of the nearly 250 year-round public schools that are back in session.
The CTU has assigned all of its teachers--even those who are not yet back in school--to get out to these informational pickets, and has asked for support from parents and community members as well.
While the informational picket lines have taken on different characters at different schools, they have so far been quite successful. Some have even turned into festive neighborhood marches and rallies. Even at those schools that have had smaller pickets, it's been a great opportunity for teachers and activists to talk with parents, to make their case, and to build support in the community.
In the coming days, CTU members will need the support of parents, students and community members in their fight for the schools our students deserve.