Chicago Teachers Go on Strike: 5 Things They’re Fighting For

Striking teachers in Chicago threaten to leave 400,000 students in the citywide school system idle, as well as challenge Mayor Rahm Emanuel's ability to work with city labor.

  • Share
  • Read Later
AP / M. Spencer Green

Chicago teachers walk a picket line outside Benjamin Banneker Elementary School in Chicago

More than 26,000 teachers and support staff in Chicago walked out on strike Monday morning for the first time in 25 years after 10 months of negotiations failed to yield a contract. The action by the Chicago Teachers Union leaves 350,000 students in the nation’s third-largest school system idle until an agreement is reached with the Chicago Public Schools.

Here are five points that need to be agreed upon before teachers — and students — return to school:

  • EVALUATIONS Teachers are striking over an evaluation that union leaders say is not fair. The teachers union is seeking to downplay the weight of how well students perform in the outcome of their biennial evaluations. The evaluation system, CPS says, was created in collaboration with teachers and agreed upon in March.
  • PAY AND BENEFITS Teachers wanted a significant raise in the first year of a new contract because of a longer school day proposed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel. CPS says it offered them a 16% increase over four years, plus “step increases” for performance and to give incentives for more experienced teachers. The teachers themselves wanted to keep the former system of granting raises based on experience. The average salary for a Chicago public school teacher is $76,000, according to the district.
  • RECALLING TEACHERS The CTU wants a method of recalling teachers who have been laid off when there are new job openings. CPS says laid-off teachers who lost their jobs during school closings can apply for new jobs at new schools — if there’s an opening, or take a 3-month severance package.
  • WORK CONDITIONS Chicago teachers typically teach large classrooms that average about 25.1 students per teacher in high schools, for example. But the high school dropout rate is about 60%.  The current contract mandates a ceiling of 31 students, but the city frequently goes over that. The plan to close 100 schools over the next few years is one that has frustrated both parents and the CTU. Additionally, the teachers union is fighting for better climate control in school because many classrooms have no air conditioning.
  • RAHM EMANUEL’S SUPPORT OF UNIONS When Emanuel took the mayorship of Chicago last May, he vowed to overhaul Chicago’s notoriously underperforming schools, particularly on the impoverished south side of the city. But the mayor’s first major negotiation with a city labor union has resulted in this strike, making worse his already poor relationship with union leaders worse. Emanuel has often butted heads with often-hotheaded union president Karen Lewis, after he bypassed the union’s opinion last year and went straight to the schools with an offer of bonus pay if they lengthened the school day. At a news conference, he called Monday’s walkout a “strike of choice,” saying he believed that the two sides were close to an agreement.

PHOTOS: Rahm Emanuel Runs for Mayor of Chicago

Q&A: 10 Questions for Rahm Emanuel