Health Contributions, Contract Length, Rehiring of Displaced Workers Among the Many CTU Victories in Chicago School Standoff
The seven-and-change days long strike by the Chicago Teachers Union has ended with the CTU deciding to return to work after a majority of their 26,000 members supported a contract offer last night. The compromise agreement will be finalized in the upcoming weeks and will include a 7% increase in base salary over the next three years.
As most observers note, however, the strike was never truly about wages. It was rooted in a collective parent and teacher desire to beat back a “corporate school reform agenda” that has left the city’s schools depressed and deprived of vital educational necessities (you know, like books).
In statements following the announcement, both sides seemed pleased with the outcome. Chicago Mayor and former Chief of Staff to President Barack Obama, Rahm Emanuel, said of the negotiations,
“This settlement is an honest compromise. It means returning our schools to their primary purpose: the education of our children.”
His counterpart in the negotiations, CTU President Karen Lewis, commented,
“We feel very positive about moving forward. We feel grateful that we have a united union, and that when a union moves together, amazing things happen.”
This win for the CTU should be viewed as a win for all teachers and union members. They took on a high-profile Mayor pushing a clearly unfair agenda in a big city and staved him off. They rejected Emanuel’s demands for merit pay, did away with a proposed teacher evaluation system they viewed as unfair, and secured a policy that would rehire the top performing teachers out of those who had recently been laid off due to budget deficits.
The tentative agreement also did much to improve the culture of Chicago’s Public Schools. The school board, selected by Mayor Emanuel, took a hard line on hiring no additional staff to help in the schools. But the agreement that resulted from the strike will include an additional 600 positions, many in music, P.E., and the arts. These are subjects that Chicago’s inner city kids have not had the same privilege to as the suburban students.
The agreement also shortened the duration of the new contract from the five years the Mayor wanted — to avoid another contract discussion during his term — to a three-year deal that will put renegotiation in the middle of his reelection campaign and hopefully engender some accountability.
The school board had also hoped to make major cuts to teachers’ health care contributions which instead will be frozen at current levels.
While no strike provides an absolute win for either side, this bold CTU action has laid the groundwork for positive change of a school system in dire need of new direction. “We couldn’t solve all the problems of the world with one contract,” Karen Lewis said, “and it was time to end the strike.”