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Why teachers in Chicago were forced out on strike

Sept. 19 UPDATE:  From AFL-CIO Now — Chicago teachers, student heading back to school — Chicago’s striking teachers will head back to school after the Chicago Teachers Union’s House of Delegates voted to suspend their strike while members consider an agreement framework. “All of our members are glad to be back with their kids,” said CTU President Karen Lewis. “It’s a hard decision to make to go out, and for some people it’s hard to make the decision to go back in.” CTU’s members still must vote on the agreement framework, which has been recommended by union leaders.

CHICAGO — For the first time in 25 years, more than 29,000 teachers and education professionals of the Chicago Teachers Union were forced out on strike to gain a contract that provides students with the education they deserve. CTU expressed disappointment in the school district’s refusal to concede on issues involving resources for students, job security and compensation — including the district’s decision to strip teachers and paraprofessionals of an agreed-upon 4% raise.

Here’s why the Chicago Teachers union voted to strike, according to a union news release:

Teachers already accepted a much longer day — and now are not being treated with respect. We are on strike for a fair contract that includes the following:

Pay Fairness. The parties are not far apart on overall compensation, CTU seeks a fairer distribution of pay and to preserve the schedule for career advancement established 45 years ago in the Union’s first labor contract.

Protect our benefits. Maintain our existing benefits and sick days without increasing the contribution rate.

Fair Evaluation Procedure. After the initial phase-in period, CPS’s proposed evaluation procedures could result in 6,000 teachers, or nearly a third of all CPS teachers, facing discharge within one or two years. It places too much emphasis on standardized test scores, which diminishes children’s education and punishes teachers unfairly.

Teacher Training. CPS is imposing a new curriculum at all schools and a strict, stringent evaluation system. Teachers have asked for more training, but CPS proposes no increase, or in some cases decreased, teacher training.

Timetable for air conditioning. Teachers insist that CPS agree to a reasonable timetable to install air conditioning in student classrooms. In July and August, students sit in sweltering 98-degree heat, and air conditioning.

Other issues of importance: CPS-sponsored legislation bars teachers from striking over certain issues, but we nonetheless expect to include the following in our next labor contract:

Fair recall procedure for laid off teachers. This summer, CTU agreed to the Mayor’s longer school day, and the agreement included a fair recall procedure for laid off teachers. The new labor contract must include a fair recall procedure.

Fair compensation for a longer school year. If teachers are expected to work a longer school year, they should be fairly compensated for the extra work. Neutral Fact Finder Edwin Benn ruled that teachers should be paid for their extra work.

The following is a statement from AFT President Randi Weingarten in support of striking Chicago Teachers Union members:

“For the first time in 25 years, the members of the Chicago Teachers Union are on strike. No one wants to strike, and no one strikes without cause. In this instance, it comes on the heels of numerous steps that left CTU members feeling disrespected, not the least of which was the district’s unilateral decision to strip teachers and paraprofessionals of an agreed-upon 4 percent raise. The strike comes only after long and intense negotiations failed to lead to an agreement that would give CTU members the tools they need to help all their students succeed.

“The American Federation of Teachers and our members across the country stand firmly with the CTU, and we will support its members in their efforts to secure a fair contract that will enable them to give their students the best opportunities.

“CTU members — the women and men who spend every day with Chicago’s children — want to have their voice and experience respected and valued. They want to be treated as equal partners in making sure every student in Chicago succeeds. That has been the CTU’s guiding philosophy throughout these negotiations, and it remains so on the picket lines.

“The Chicago Teachers Union is the AFT’s Local No. 1. The AFT was founded in Chicago 100 years ago by teachers determined to have a voice in the quality of their workplace and the quality of the instruction provided to their students. They knew then, as CTU members know now, that collective action was the only way to improve their schools, their communities and their students’ education. We know that the members of the CTU are prepared to stay on the picket lines. We also know they would rather be on the job, in the classroom educating their students.

“CTU President Karen Lewis made clear last night that the CTU is prepared to continue negotiations during the strike. Mayor Rahm Emanuel echoed that sentiment on behalf of the district. The students, teachers and educational support staff — and the city of Chicago — deserve a school system that works for everyone. In the end, that is what this strike is all about.”

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka released the following statement:

“We’ve been monitoring this situation closely and in close touch with the AFT, the parent union of the CTU. No one wants to strike.  And teachers recognize the enormous financial strain facing the district and the city. But right now, Mayor Emanuel’s proposal does not provide the elements necessary to ensure success for Chicago’s students or educators. We’d like to thank Chicago’s educators, Jorge Ramirez and the Chicago Federation of Labor, who are working together to ensure a successful school system for every child.”

Click here to visit the Chicago Teachers Union’s Strike Central site. Get the latest news updates on the strike in The Stand’s Daily News.

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