Contract Approved in Chicago, Averting Teachers' Strike

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The Chicago school board unanimously adopted a contract with the city teachers' union last week, heading off a strike in the nation's third-largest district that had been slated to begin Dec. 4.

Members of the Chicago Teachers Union approved the four-year deal the day before the board acted. The contract provides 4 percent annual raises for most educators, though paraprofessionals will receive slightly more. It also seeks to improve working conditions and provides a better health-care package, according to Deborah Lynch, the president of the 33,000-member union.

Union members had rejected a five-year agreement last month, the first rebuff of its kind in the CTU's history. The opponents cited the long length of the contract, higher health-insurance expenditures, and added time on the job without pay as reasons for voting it down. While top union leaders recommended the five-year deal, the House of Delegates had urged a walkout, and members of the rank and file were preparing for such an action.

"Throughout the negotiating process, we've stayed committed to reaching an agreement that is good for teachers, students, parents, and taxpayers," said Michael W. Scott, the school board's president. "The new contract has a strong compensation packet, provides a solid framework for maintaining our financial strength, and, most importantly, assures our students and parents that we'll have four more years of labor peace." School board members weren't the only ones expressing relief.

"No one wanted to go on strike—that was a given," said Otis Harris Jr., who teaches 6th grade at Thorp Scholastic Academy. Most educators have finally established a groove with students by the holidays, he added, which could have been jeopardized if teachers had walked out.

Ms. Lynch, however, said taking a strike vote was necessary to move talks forward. "Only when the threat of a strike was realized was there movement," the CTU president said. "In a 17-and-a-half-hour-long marathon, the 10 demands we had on the table became 10 victories."

Limited Options

Not everyone was happy with the pact.

Only 55 percent of the CTU members who voted approved the contract. The organization is affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers.

Some union members said the deal passed only because they were forced to choose between agreeing to the proposal or voting for a strike that would have begun just three weeks before Christmas.

Those were the only two options listed on the ballot, said Theodore T. Dallas, a veteran educator who teaches horticulture at the 1,200-student Wells Community Academy and is the chairman of the United Progressive Caucus. That camp of the local union held power for years until Ms. Lynch and her allies took over in 2001.

Others voted against the contract because they still didn't like the length of the agreement and the cost of health insurance, or had hoped for bigger raises, he said.

"I believe [the school board] really took advantage of us," Mr. Dallas said.

Mr. Harris, however, countered that the contract was the best possible option. "I do think I'm worth more than 4 percent," he said, "but in days in which the economy is tight, you have to accept reality."

Vol. 23, Issue 13, Page 9

Published in Print: November 26, 2003, as Contract Approved in Chicago, Averting Teachers' Strike
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