Chicago school teachers go on strike
Action by 29,000 teachers demanding better pay set to affect the third-largest school district in the US.
Last Modified: 10 Sep 2012 13:20
Young students march in support of Chicago teachers in advance of Monday's strike [Reuters]

Chicago school teachers have gone on strike for the first time in 25 years demanding better pay, health benefits and more resources to serve students in the third-largest school district in the US.

Monday’s strike comes less than one week after the start of the school year and after months of failed negotiations between the Chicago Teachers Union, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the city’s school board.

Around 29,000 teachers and other staff are expected to take part in the strike voted for by 90 per cent of the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) earlier this year.

CTU Vice President Jesse Sharkey told Al Jazeera by phone that teachers began the strike on Monday by forming picket lines at schools across Chicago.

“Nobody who works with children everyday takes the responsibility lightly,” Sharkey said. “This is weighing heavy on minds of the union and its members.

“But we feel schools are important enough to fight for and that’s what’s behind the strike. We’re going to work very hard to get it resolved quickly,” Sharkey said. 

'Unfair to children'

Emanuel, who served as President Barack Obama's chief of staff, described on Sunday the strike as “unnecessary” and unfair to Chicago’s children.

David Vitale, Chicago school board president, said on Sunday night: “We believe that we have put on the table an agreement that should satisfy most of their needs if not all of their needs.

“We have moved dramatically from where we were earlier this year to meet [teachers’ needs] - we do not want a strike.”

Eve Rivera, a mother whose four children attend Chicago public schools on the city’s south side, told Al Jazeera over phone that she, like many parents, had heard about the possibility of the strike for months but thought it “wouldn’t happen".

She said that she does not blame the teachers for the strike.

“Kids have suffered not because of teachers because of government,” Rivera said.

“Schools have been closed down, they shove students in one classroom and teachers still show up."

Chicago has closed dozens of schools in recent years, and is expected to close many more.

Emanuel wants to expand the number of charter schools, which are publicly funded but privately run.

Crowded classrooms 

Most charter schools are non-union and the teachers’ union argues that the city is draining funds from public schools for charters.

The Chicago School Board took back a scheduled four per cent pay raise for teachers last year, citing budget problems.

Emanuel says he is offering a two per cent pay increase annually over the next four years.

Teachers are also calling for a reduction in class sizes.

Chicago public schools average around 25 students per classroom, with some parents telling Al Jazeera that the number of students in their children’s’ classrooms can reach as high as 35.

Only about 60 per cent of high school students in Chicago graduate compared with a national average of 75 per cent and more than 90 per cent in some affluent Chicago suburbs.

The last teachers' strike in Chicago happened in 1987 and lasted for 19 days.


Al Jazeera and agencies
Topics in this article
Featured on Al Jazeera
An innovative rehabilitation programme offers Danish fighters in Syria an escape route and help without prosecution.
Street tension between radical Muslims and Holland's hard right rises, as Islamic State anxiety grows.
Take an immersive look at the challenges facing the war-torn country as US troops begin their withdrawal.
Ministers and MPs caught on camera sleeping through important speeches have sparked criticism that they are not working.
Spirits are high in Scotland's 'Whisky Capital of the World' with one distillery thirsty for independence.
President Poroshenko arrives in Washington on Thursday with money and military aid on his mind, analysts say.
Early players in private medicine often focused on volume over quality, turning many Chinese off for-profit care.
Al Jazeera asked people across Scotland what they think about the prospect of splitting from the United Kingdom.
Blogger critical of a lack of government transparency faces defamation lawsuit from Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.
join our mailing list