Chicago teachers end strike, classes began today
September 19, 2012
Chicago teachers are returning to work after a nine-day strike—standing proud after driving back Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s attack on their jobs, their union and their schools.
Late on Tuesday afternoon, the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) House of Delegates voted overwhelmingly in favor of suspending their strike and going back to work on Wednesday. The tentative agreement that the CTU reached with the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) now goes to members for a ratification vote over the next two weeks.
“I’m excited, and most teachers echo this sentiment,” said Lawrence Balark, a teacher at Moos Elementary on the city’s West Side. “We are going back to work, and standing strong in solidarity in doing so. It was definitely a victory. So many other unions have had to accept merit pay, but I’m proud to say that we held that off.”
According to Jackson Potter, staff coordinator for the union:
We feel empowered. We feel stronger as a union. Some elements of the contract weren’t entirely what we wanted on the economic issues, but we won some important non-economic improvements in areas such as professional autonomy, language to prohibit bullying by principals, and an appeals process for teacher evaluation and disciplinary decisions.
As Potter added, “We built power, and we will be more effective in our buildings when we return. And this will make us more able to stop abusive principals, to organize the charters and to stop the school closures.”
Rahm Emanuel pulled out every weapon in his arsenal—from character assassination to divide-and-conquer tactics with other unions to the threat of a court injunction—but the teachers never blinked. “We’re glad to be going back on our own terms,” Susan Hickey, an 18-year social worker, told NBC’s Channel 5 News.
The Chicago teachers’ strike is an inspiring example of what’s possible when union members are engaged and active in a common struggle. Said CTU President Karen Lewis at a press conference after the vote, “We’re happy to have a united union. When a union moves together, amazing things happen.”
Teachers are relieved at having fought off some of CPS’s worst demands. But they are also conscious of contract provisions that are painful concessions to the politicians’ austerity drive.
The CTU defeated the city’s attempt to establish merit pay—basing teachers’ wages on how well their students perform on standardized tests, a central part of the corporate school “reform” agenda, even though it does absolutely nothing to promote teaching.
The union also maintained “steps and lanes,” a pay structure that grants additional salary hikes based on years of experience and additional education. CPS didn’t get the five-year contract it wanted, but agreed to three years instead—which means the agreement will expire as Emanuel is running for re-election.
Base pay will increase 3 percent in the first year and 2 percent in each of the next two years, with language that bars the city from rescinding raises as it did last year. But these increases are counterbalanced by uncompensated additional days in a longer school year.
Another concession concerns what happens to teachers who are laid off—an important question for teachers in a school district that has slated so many schools for closure or “turnaround.” The contract stipulates that half of new teachers hired must be displaced CTU members—but it decreases time teachers remain in the displaced teachers’ pool with full pay and benefits from 10 months to five.
This is a great victory not only for CTU, but for the students & families of Chicago!