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Strike Means 350,000 Out Of School

“Chicago Teachers Go on Strike”
by Stephanie Banchero
Wall Street Journal
September 10, 2012

Chicago public-school teachers went on strike Monday, canceling classes in the nation’s third-largest school system, after marathon contract talks with city officials ended Sunday night without a deal.

The teachers’ strike is the first in Chicago in a quarter-century and the first in a big U.S. urban district since one in Detroit in 2006. It follows months of acrimony between the Chicago Teachers Union and Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

The city has canceled classes for some 350,000 students, though about 144 of its 681 schools were scheduled to open Monday, staffed by district workers, to provide breakfast, lunch and basic activities.

Karen Lewis, head of the Chicago Teachers Union, said it was a “difficult decision and one we’d hoped to avoid.”

She said the two sides weren’t far apart on wages but said they couldn’t agree on other issues, including health benefits and the new teacher-evaluation system.

David Vitale, president of the Chicago Board of Education, who was at the negotiating table, said the city offered teachers a 3% raise the first year and 2% annually for the next three years—which would cost about $400 million.

“We believe we have been as responsive as we know how and within our financial capability,” he said during a late-night news conference. “This is not a small commitment at a time when our financial situation is challenged.”

The conflict comes amid broader tension during the economic downturn between public-sector unions and state and local governments trying to plug budget gaps.

The Chicago battle has pitted Ms. Lewis, one of the country’s抯 most vocal labor leaders, against Mr. Emanuel, one of its most prominent mayors and the former White House chief of staff for President Barack Obama. The Democratic mayor has made efforts to overhaul the city’s public education a centerpiece of his administration.

This is “a fight between old labor and new Democrats who support education reform, and it has been brewing for a long time in cities across the country,” said Tim Knowles, director of the Urban Education Institute at the University of Chicago, which conducts research on Chicago schools.

The two sides have negotiated for months over issues including wages, health-care benefits and job security.

The union didn’t publicly state its recent salary demands but had initially asked for 19% in the first year. The average Chicago teacher salary is about $70,000.

Chicago teachers were slated to receive a 4% raise last school year, but the school board rescinded it, noting the district’s $712 million deficit.

Despite that move, Chicago teachers received total wage increases of 19% to 46% during their 2007-12 contract, depending on factors such as how long they had served, according to an independent fact finder’s report issued in July.

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