Recruitment & Retention

Chicago Delegates Vote to Suspend Strike

By Stephen Sawchuk — September 18, 2012 3 min read
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Delegates to the Chicago Teachers Union tonight voted to suspend the 7-day-old strike, tentatively approving a settlement brokered last weekend with the district.

The move allows the contract to go to the membership for ratification, the final hurdle to ending a deeply divisive and contentious round of collective bargaining in the nation’s third largest school district.

As a result of the delegates’ vote, classes will resume in the city’s public schools on Wednesday, according to numerous reports.

The strike began Sept. 10, and has affected more than 350,000 students.

The motion to suspend the strike came a day before a state court was scheduled to hear a board of education lawsuit seeking an injunction. Supported by Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, the suit argues that state law bars unions from bargaining over non-economic issues, such as class sizes or teacher evaluation. (Legal scholars, for their part, noted that state law charges Illinois’ Education Labor Relations Board, not the courts, with overseeing such disputes.)

The vote today was hotly anticipated, and its results were in question given varied reports about the 800 delegates’ reaction some of the provisions. Delegates deferred a vote last Sunday to end the strike, saying they needed more time to digest the complex agreement.

Observers attributed that delay in part to CTU’s leadership, as well as to the mistrust between the union and district. The CTU has generally been successful at reinvigorating its members, and some pumped-up delegates were disappointed with the proposed deal, feeling the union could have won even more concessions.

CORE, the political party in power in CTU’s leadership, “lit a match and got people energized and gave them reasons to raise their expectations, and smartly found a way to motivate them,” said Robert Bruno, a professor of labor and employment relations at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

“Now you have this big mass of teachers who are energized and mobilized, for the first time in their teaching lives. I think CORE is to be given all the credit in the world for that,” Bruno said. “But now that these people are feeling this way, they took Karen [Lewis] and CORE at their words, and she’s experiencing some of the stress of what it means to really, really lead a rank-and-file union.”

While the union did not secure everything it had fought for in negotiations—the agreement does not include mandatory class-size caps, for instance—it did succeed in maintaining step-and-lane raises based on degree and experience; preventing a merit-pay based system; securing new teaching and counseling positions; and winning laid-off teachers a place in rehiring pools.

The following are among the specific elements in the agreement mad last weekend between the union and the district:

• Teachers’ salaries will increase by 3 percent in the first year of a new contract and by 2 percent in each of the succeeding two years, in addition to step-and-lane increases for experience and for holding advanced degrees.
• Measures of student-achievement growth will count for the minimum 30 percent in teacher evaluations, as required under state law, though the district and union could jointly agree to a higher threshold in later years. Teachers will also be able to appeal their ratings.
• In the first year of implementation, the teacher-evaluation system will not carry consequences.
• Principals will have to hire staff from a new “hiring pool” for teachers that will include at least half laid-off and half new teachers. Teachers displaced because of school closures will be permitted to follow their students to other schools.
• The district will hire approximately 600 additional teachers for arts and enrichment classes.
• The school year will be lengthened by 10 days.
• The contract will last for three years, unless the two parties agree to extend it to a fourth.

Photos (from top):
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, right, stands with Chicago Public Schools CEO Jean-Claud Brizard during a news conference after the teachers union’s House of Delegates voted to suspend their strike on Tuesday. (Charles Rex Arbogast/AP)

Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis addresses the media after the union’s delegates voted to suspend the teachers’ strike on Tuesday. (Phil Velasquez/Chicago Tribune/MCT)

Tennille Evans, a member of the Chicago Teachers Union’s House of Delegates, celebrates after the delegates voted to suspend the strike against the school district on Tuesday in Chicago. The city’s teachers agreed to return to the classroom after more than a week on the picket lines, ending a spiteful stalemate with Mayor Rahm Emanuel that put teacher evaluations and job security. (Charles Rex Arbogast/AP)
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A version of this news article first appeared in the Teacher Beat blog.