Monday, December 9, 2013
The Associated Press
CHICAGO — Thousands of Chicago teachers walked off the job Monday for the first time in 25 years, after union leaders announced they were far from resolving a contract dispute with school district officials.
Members of the Chicago Teachers Union distribute strike signs at the union's strike headquarters in Chicago on Saturday. The union announced Sunday night that its 25,000 members will go on strike Monday morning for the first time in 25 years after contract talks with the school district failed.
2012 File Photo/The Associated Press
The walkout in the nation's third-largest school district posed a tricky test for Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who said he would work to end the strike quickly.
"This is not a strike I wanted," Emanuel said Sunday night, not long after the union announced the action. "It was a strike of choice ... it's unnecessary, it's avoidable and it's wrong."
Some 26,000 teachers and support staff were expected to join the picket. Among teachers protesting Monday morning outside Benjamin Banneker Elementary School on Chicago's South Side, eighth-grade teacher Michael Williams said he wanted a quick contract resolution.
"We hoped that it wouldn't happen. We all want to get back to teaching," Williams said, adding that wages and classroom conditions need to be improved.
Contract negotiations between Chicago Public School officials and union leaders that stretched through the weekend were resuming Monday.
"I would like all the parties to do right by our children," Emanuel said. "Our kids belong in the classroom. The negotiators belong at the negotiating table," and should finish their job.
Officials said some 140 schools would be open between 8:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. so the children who rely on free meals provided by the school district can eat breakfast and lunch, school district officials said.
City officials acknowledged that children left unsupervised — especially in neighborhoods with a history of gang violence — might be at risk, but vowed to protect the nearly 400,000 students' safety.
"We will make sure our kids are safe, we will see our way through these issues and our kids will be back in the classroom where they belong," Emanuel said.
The school district asked community organizations to provide additional programs for students, and a number of churches, libraries and other groups plan to offer day camps and other activities.
Police Chief Garry McCarthy said he would take officers off desk duty and deploy them to deal with any teachers' protests as well as the thousands of students who could be roaming the streets.
Union leaders and district officials were not far apart in their negotiations on compensation, Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis said. But other issues — including potential changes to health benefits and a new teacher evaluation system based partly on students' standardized test scores — remained unresolved, she said.
"This is a difficult decision and one we hoped we could have avoided," Lewis said. "We must do things differently in this city if we are to provide our students with the education they so rightfully deserve."
Emanuel and the union officials have much at stake. Unions and collective bargaining by public employees have recently come under criticism in many parts of the country, and all sides are closely monitoring who might emerge with the upper hand in the Chicago dispute.
The timing also may be inopportune for Emanuel, a former White House chief of staff whose city administration is wrestling with a spike in murders and shootings in some city neighborhoods and who just agreed to take a larger role in fundraising for President Barack Obama's re-election campaign.
As the strike deadline approached, parents spent Sunday worrying about how much their children's education might suffer and where their kids will go while they're at work.
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