After nine days of striking, the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) and Chicago Public Schools (CPS) have come to an agreement over a contract that will allow more than 30,000 teachers to return to the classroom.
The third biggest union in the country, the CTU’s decision to go out on strike for the first time in 25 years ignited a national debate on school reform, unequal funding in education and the role of labor unions in fighting for broader social issues.
More than 800 delegates voted on the tentative contract Tuesday afternoon and came out with an agreement that CTU President Karen Lewis called “a victory for education.”
The contract includes hiring more than 600 additional teachers in art, music and physical education; making textbooks available on the first day of school instead of the six weeks that many students have to wait and bringing the percentage of teacher evaluations that are decided by standardized test scores down to the legal minimum of 30 percent.
The decision to strike came after months of stalled negotiations between CPS and the CTU. On the table was merit pay, salary and seniority issues. Teachers were also asking to get a pay increase for the longer school day instituted by Rahm Emanuel, an issue the two groups came to an agreement on before the strike was called.
But a whole host of other issues – ranging from air conditioning in schools to teacher evaluations – spoke to larger social issues that the union said the strike was really about.
“The fight is not about Karen Lewis,” Lewis told supports at a Labor Day rally the week before the strike. “Let’s be clear: This fight is about the very soul of public education – not only in Chicago but everywhere.”
“We know there’s a finite amount of resources, but we also know we didn’t create that problem,” she said. “Our children are not numbers on a spreadsheet: When you come after our children you come after us,” she added. “We did not start this fight, but enough is enough.”
The strike also brought the focus to the state of Chicago’s public schools, which are more than 80 percent low-income and highly segregated. The strike shone a spotlight on the relationship of Democrats, and Barack Obama in particular, with unions. Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan both came out in support of Rahm Emanuel.
This isn’t the first fight Rahm picked with public unions – he cut library hours in early 2012 and when they were extended again hired non-union workers – and commentators don’t think it will be the last. His filing for an injunction against the strike – denied by the judge until the union’s members had a chance to fully read the deal. When the House of Delegates reconvened, they decided to accept the contract.
During the course of the strike, teachers held daily pickets at schools, as well as several issue-specific rallies calling our corporate tax breaks and unequal education funding.
What it means to win the contract battle was an ongoing conversation as the teachers union came to its decision, but an editorial in the Chicago Sun-Times had this to say:
If the point of going on strike is to get a better deal than you would have received without it, then the Chicago Teachers Union is already a pretty clear winner this week in its confrontation with Mayor Rahm Emanuel and his school board.
If the point of going on strike is to give voice to the frustrations of your members and to allow them to vent their anger, then you’d have to say the CTU was a runaway winner on that front as well.
And if the point of going on strike is to let your employer know you’re not going to be taken for granted in the future, then score another one for the CTU.
Are you detecting a pattern here?