Chicago teachers file charges and prepare to strike

The Chicago Teachers Union(CTU) on September 6 filed unfair labor practice charges with the Illinois Labor Board against the Chicago Public Schools (CPS). The union charged the school system with imposing contract changes while negotiations for a new contract are in progress.

The union said that if the negotiations do not result in a fair contract by midnight September 9, CPS teachers, counselors, nurses, and other professionals will go on strike on September 10. In July, 98 percent of the teachers and other education professionals covered by the current contract authorized a strike if a fair agreement could not be reached.

The unfair labor charges were filed after CPS unilaterally canceled longevity pay, discontinued a sick leave benefit, and imposed new teacher evaluation procedures.

CPS’ attempt to impose concessions on the teachers is its latest effort to weaken CTU, which the CPS school board, Mayor Rahm Emanuel, and outside education pundits see as the biggest obstacle to their plans to privatize more of Chicago’s public schools.

CPS’s actions both past and present led CTU President Karen Lewis to call Mayor Emanuel, “a bully and a liar.”

“We did not start this fight,” said Lewis at a huge Labor Day solidarity rally. “But brothers and sisters, enough is enough.”

“The only way you beat a bully is to stand up to him,” said Lewis later in the speech.

Lewis told the 18,000 people at the solidarity rally that the contract negotiations and the possible strike on Monday, “is about the very soul of public education in Chicago.”

On one side, according to Lewis, you have the outsider education pundits like Juan Rangel, UNO charter school operator whose annual salary is $266,000, and Andrew Marcus, a Tea Party activist, and Mayor Emanuel and his school board.

Lewis accused the Mayor of saying that he wasn’t going to waste money on 25 percent of Chicago’s public school students who he said wouldn’t amount to anything. They’re agenda is to defund public schools, close down at least 100, and funnel the money to charter schools.

On the other side are the teachers, other school staff, and their supporters. Their goal is to win real education reform that includes smaller class sizes, an expanded curriculum for all schools that includes the arts, language, and physical education, more student services such as counseling, extra help for students living in high poverty neighborhoods, more teacher preparation time, and decent pay, benefits, and security that can attract and retain high quality professionals vital to the future of Chicago.

At the solidarity rally, the teachers received a stunning amount of support from students, parents, community organizations, and other unions.

“One thing that’s great to see today,” said Chicago Alderman Nick Sposato at the rally. “Is all the kids here fighting for better schools, smaller class sizes, and all the important things about education.”

“We support the Chicago Teachers Union,” said Jitu Brown of the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization, which has been leading the fight to preserve neighborhood schools threatened with closure. “This fight is about more than a contract. This about what kind of Chicago we want to live in.”

Speakers from SEIU, AFSCME, the National Association of Letter Carriers, the National Nurses Union, and the Fraternal Order of Police expressed their solidarity with the teachers and their just demands.

“It is very important that we send a message to City Hall,” said Henry Bayer, president of AFSCME Council 31. “We as public servants stand in solidarity with the teachers.”

CTU is also receiving support from around the country. “The Chicago Teachers Union wants to thank the many organizations who have written letters of solidarity and contributed to our solidarity fund,” reads a statement on CTU’s web site.

Money from the solidarity fund is being used to mount a public outreach campaign that explains the teachers’ agenda for real education reform, which can be found in the union’s newly published report, The Schools Chicago Students Deserve.

Lewis said that those pushing their privatization agenda have been surprised by the solidarity and resistance that they’ve met. “The people from outside Chicago who have come here to destroy us were met with resistance they never thought would happen,” Lewis said. “A little over a year ago, they wrote us off. . . . And what happened? . . . Building by building, school by school, we all came together to stop the juggernaut that doesn’t care about our children, that doesn’t know what we do, and that has written off 25 percent of our children.”


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