Chicago teachers successfully negotiated an interim agreement with the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) that improves educational opportunities for students and protects teachers from unreasonable workload increases, but Karen Lewis, president of the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU), said that the interim agreement does not resolve other outstanding issues and that a strike by public school teachers is still possible if these issues are not resolved.
“Despite the interim agreement, there are many open issues still on the negotiating table in which there has been little movement,” Lewis said. “Public school teachers . . . remain concerned about (CPS’) refusal to provide adequate wrap-around services for students severely impacted by poverty and violence in addition to threats of ballooning class sizes. Teachers are concerned about the new evaluation process of which 40 percent of the review is based on how students perform on standardized tests. Job security, health benefits, and teacher pay have not been resolved.”
The interim agreement stopped a power play by Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel. In April, the CPS school board, dominated by Emanuel appointees, announced that it would unilaterally increase the length of the school day by 40 minutes without hiring more teachers, stretching an over extended line of educators even further.
CTU objected because the board’s proposal violated the teachers’ contract and, more importantly, it would further erode the quality of education in a school system that is already struggling, especially in poorer neighborhoods.
When the board announced its proposal, CTU offered the board a way of lengthening the school day without increasing teacher workloads. The union proposed that CPS create more teaching positions to cover the increased number of periods that would be needed to fill the longer school day. CTU also suggested that CPS fill the new positions by re-hiring teachers who CPS laid off in 2010 due to budget cuts.
The board originally turned down the offer, but in late July, relented and agreed to create 750 new positions and give hiring priority to former Chicago teachers for about 500 of these new positions.
Lewis called the interim agreement to keep current workloads and hire more teachers a victory for teachers, students, and parents and said that the key to victory was a huge mobilization effort by teachers and their supports.
“It should be noted,” she said. “That movement at the bargaining table came only after 10,000 people marched in downtown Chicago in support of a fair contract and more resources for neighborhood schools.”
Lewis also said that after the march, 90 percent of CTU members voted on a referendum to authorize a strike if bargaining failed to result in a new agreement. Of those who voted, 98 percent voted in favor of a strike if necessary. The strike could take place as early as September.
“We recognize strikes are not popular,” Lewis said. “However, they are the strongest tool public workers have in ensuring that their rights are not trampled on. The CTU is fighting for strong, well-resourced neighborhood schools where students regardless of their zip codes have access to a high-quality public education.”