Chicago Teachers On Strike

Liesel Burks

On Monday, September 10, 2012, thousands of teachers in Chicago—a city with the third-largest school district—walked off the job. Fox News reported on Tuesday that approximately 26,000 teachers and support staff had officially gone on strike with the Chicago Teacher Union. This strike has come as a result of a failure of the Chicago public school officials and the city teacher’s union to come to an agreement concerning economic and job security issues. These issues, including contract disputes over evaluations and job security, have come to the national stage as a result of this strike Chicago School Board President David Vitale reported the union’s intent to strike on Monday unless both parties can agree to a new contract, and despite the compromises achieved in the past, the contract simply did not satisfy the teachers union.

Several political figures have brought up questions concerning the strike’s actual legitimacy. Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who has expressed disagreements with the union in the past, stated in a press conference on Tuesday that “this was a strike of choice, and it’s the wrong choice for children.” The legitimacy of this strike has also become a divisive issue in this presidential campaign, with Mitt Romney siding with Emanuel and Obama carefully steering between the desires of the union leaders and recognition of Emanuel’s stance.

Furthermore, according to the National Council on Teacher Quality, Chicago teachers are among the highest-paid in the nation with a median salary of $76,000. Over the past four years, the Chicago school board has granted total 16 percent pay increase for its teachers. So, why are economic concerns a part of this move to strike? These economic concerns are taking shape through job security measures, a topic that is vital in a city whose education system has become characterized by a “struggle between big cities and teachers’ unions for control of schools,” according to a CNN report on Tuesday. These concerns rest in the seemingly trivial but important things: teacher Kimberly Crawford said she was most concerned about issues concerning class size and the lack of air conditioning—factors that impact the educational quality in Chicago’s public schools. “It’s not about the raise,” she said in an LA Times article from September 12,  “I’ve worked without a raise for the past two years.”

Wednesday marked the third day of the strike, and more than 350,000 students have been out of classes since Monday. Contract negotiations remain ongoing, and the union leaders and school board met on Wednesday evening, resulting in no formal negotiations. The heavy impact of the strike on the city has been somewhat alleviated, as Chicago policemen have been off desk duty and are watching the streets, looking for students who may be roaming late at night. The district has staffed over 140 schools with non-union workers and central office employees for half days so students dependent on school-provided free meals can have a place to eat and a place to go while their parents are at work.

While school board officials are hoping that this strike will not last, other have different opinions. Not only is this strike affecting the future of the Chicago public school system, but it could potentially have effects that go beyond the state lines. “This is a long-term battle that everyone’s going to watch,” said Eric Hanskek, senior fellow in education at the Hoover Institution of Stanford University. “Other teachers unions in the United States will start wondering if they should follow suit.” As we watch negotiations continue to unfold, only time will tell what’s in store on the national stage.

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