Talk but No Deal in Chicago Teachers' Strike

After a week of no school for 350,000 students in Chicago public schools, the Chicago Teachers Union and the Chicago School Board could not agree on a contract. Talks continue today with hopes of children returning to school on Monday.

In the past week, both sides have been honing their messages to garner support. Rahm Emanuel called the strike "unnecessary" and "a strike by choice." In his press statement, he says that two issues remain: teacher evaluation and principal accountability. He also emphasizes the importance of getting " back in the classroom. Our kids, the kids of Chicago, belong in the classroom."


On the other side of the table, Karen Lewis, president of the Chicago Teachers Union, leads the conversation. Lewis, described by The New York Times as a "fiery former high school chemistry teacher," spoke to a reported 18,000 supporters on Labor Day. She riled the crowd: "We know there's a finite amount of resources, but we also know we didn't create that problem. Our children are not a campaign promise. Our children are not numbers on a spreadsheet. When you come after our children, you come after us."

The Chicago Teachers Union has an active Facebook page, with almost 35,000 "likes." Although the page is often updated and shows strike-related activity, more content about the Union's position is available on its website. Here, we see a flyer targeted to parents that outlines the following demands: 

  • Reduce class size
  • Provide social services children need
  • Invest in all schools
  • Support teachers as professionals
  • Stop charter expansions

However, in the lastest "Bargaining Update" posted, from August 22, the Union highlights these "three priorities":

1.  A "Better" Day-with Art, Music, World Language, Physical Education and other services like counseling anchored by contract language that assures prep and break time, limits on teaching load, and limits on duties.
2.  Job Security-in the form of guarantees that the Board will conduct future hiring from a pool of displaced members before making new hires, as well as an appeal process and other protections against unfair evaluation.
3.  Fair Compensation-we deserve a fair raise for work that will be more stressful and challenging. In addition, we seek to protect our salary schedule (steps) and keep out merit pay, insurance premium hikes, and changes to our accumulation of sick days that undercut our benefits.

Discussion Starters:

  • Read more about the contract negotiations online. Which side do you favor? What issues do you consider most important for each side?
  • Watch Rahm Emanuel's and Karen Lewis's videos. What do you consider to be the most and leaving convincing arguments in each?
  • In the Bargaining Update document, is this use of "assures" correct: "contract language that assures prep and break time"? What should be in its place?