Thousands of striking teachers rally on 1st strike day

September 11, 2012 4:13:39 AM PDT
For the first time in 25 years, Chicago teachers walked out of the classroom Monday, taking a bitter contract dispute over evaluations and job security to the streets of the nation's third-largest city - and to a national audience - less than a week after most schools opened for fall.

After spending much of the day at the negotiating table, school board president David Vitale said he believes the two sides are close and could hammer out a deal quickly.

"I believe that it was unnecessary, it was avoidable and we really need to get this over with and get our kids back to school," said Vitale. "We believe we should resolve this tomorrow. We are close enough to get it resolved."

"We still have a lot of work to do obviously, and we got a lot of work done today," said Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis.

Vitale said while teachers and school officials talked all day, teachers declined to discuss what he says are the two biggest remaining sticking points: teacher evaluations and recalling laid-off union teachers for openings in the district.

Union leaders said the reason they declined to talk about the points because the board had nothing new to offer on those two issues.

"On a common sense basis, why not trust the educators who actually know how school works to have input into evaluation? It doesn't makes any sense not to," said Jesse Sharkey, CTU vice president.

Earlier in the day while visiting a safe haven facility for students, Mayor Rahm Emanuel said he believes there was no need for teachers to walk out.

"This offer is respectful of our teachers, it does right by our students and is fair to our taxpayers," Emanuel said.

The mayor has yet to take an active role in negotiations. And some labor relations experts suggest the mayor is such a polarizing figure, his involvement could hurt progress on a deal.

"You've got a large number of teachers who are genuinely angry with the mayor, and that is combustible," said Prof. Bob Bruno, labor relations expert, UIC professor.

Teachers and school officials are expected to resume negotiations Tuesday at 9:30 a.m.

Teachers take to the streets

Thousands of teachers, all dressed in red, marched through the Loop at rush hour Monday. After a rally at CPS headquarters, they headed to City Hall to send Mayor Emanuel a message of discontent.

"Rahm is treating us all like impetuous children. That he says it's a choice, it's like we're just doing something for fun," said Jerri Green-Chavis, teacher.

Nearly every teacher ABC7 spoke to expressed dissatisfaction with the mayor and what they believe is the city's oversimplification of the remaining sticking points, which include recall rights and teacher evaluations.

"We don't want our students to just be an ACT score. Students are more than that. Education is not a test," said Johnny Vallecillo, teacher.

"We want a system where if they are shutting down schools, the teachers that get laid off through no fault of their own have a rack at those new jobs and they're not going to consider them because they are experienced teachers," said Michael Rusin, CPS teacher.

Some administrators do not agree, however. At Crown Community Academy, Principal Lee Jackson expressed his belief that student scores must play a part in teacher evaluations and that displaced teachers should not have an automatic right to be rehired.

"We always want to hire the best teachers available, whether they come from the pool of displaced workers, or new candidates for jobs," Jackson said.

For CPS parents making their way through the Loop during Monday's rally, the issue is a tough one.

"It's bad because the kids are missing school, but I feel teachers deserve their rights," said Taylor McHatten, parent.

Points of Disagreement:

Regarding compensation, the Chicago Teachers Union says the raises proposed by CPS do not fairly compensate them for a 4-percent raise that they did not get ? and were supposed to get previously -- and, they say, the offer also does not compensate them either for the longer school day being implemented.

The district officials say what they can offer is limited simply because they are threatened by a $1 billion deficit at the end of this school year. CPS Board President David Vitale does believe that a fair offer is on the table. He said the deal comes with a 3-percent raise the first year, and 2 percent the second, third and fourth years of the deal.

Representatives for both the district and the teachers union say there has been some progress with respect to teacher compensation, but there are still several other sticking points dividing the two sides.

One of those sticking points is the cost of teacher benefits. There is also the concern about rehiring a pool of laid-off teachers. Union members want laid-off teachers to have the first chance on other jobs that may be opening. By law, union officials cannot strike on that issue alone, but they say they do not intend to sign any contract until that issue is addressed.

Additionally, there is a concern about using a system that ties teacher evaluations to student standardized test scores. The system, some say, could lead to the dismissal of 6,000 teachers.

However, district officials defended the evaluations in a one-on-one interview with ABC7.

"I do not know where that number comes from or how we anticipated what the number of teachers would be. I do think it is about effectiveness. It is about building teacher quality," CPS Chief Education Advisor Barbara Byrd Bennett said.

Union officials also are still pushing for improved working conditions, smaller class sizes and air conditioning in the the classrooms.

"We have 35 kids in one classroom and it is overcrowded with no air conditioning. About 100 degrees in the room with no air conditioning. The kids can't concentrate that way," said Maxine Jackson, teacher.

The union is concerned that not enough social workers are a part of this contract and they will fight for what is being called wrap-around services.

The teachers union said the proposal that is on the table for them right now does not address the whole range of these matters, and they say they will not sign any deal and will stay at the table until all of their demands are met.

Apart from a teacher recall procedure, there are larger issues underlying these talks, personified by Karen Lewis' description of the mayor as a liar and bully.

"There have been a large number of teachers who are genuinely angry with the mayor," said Prof. Bob Bruno, UIC labor relations expert.

"In the last year the evaluation is designed by our teachers for our teachers," said Mayor Emanuel. "It will be revived by our teachers. It respects their understanding of their profession."

The Associated Press contributed to this report


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