Chicago mayor takes legal action over strike

Rahm Emanuel begins court action to obtain injunction in attempt to end first teacher’s strike in 25 years.

Rahm Emanuel, mayor of Chicago, has turned to the city’s courts to end a teacher’s strike that has entered its second week.

Lawyers for Chicago Public Schools, representing the local administration, filed a complaint in circuit court against the Chicago Teachers Union seeking a preliminary injunction “to end the strike immediately”.

Two reasons, specifically, were given by CPS for the request: danger to “public health and safety” of the
students and alleged violation of Illinois state law that prohibits strikes except for wages and benefits.

“State law expressly prohibits the CTU from striking over non-economic issues, such as layoff and recall policies, teacher
evaluations, class sizes and the length of the school day and year. The CTU’s repeated statements and recent advertising campaign have made clear that these are exactly the subjects over which the CTU is striking,” the school district said in a statement.

The Cook County court has not yet held a hearing on the request to end strikes in the nation’s third-largest school district.

Judge Peter Flynn has said if the strike continues until then, the court may instead hold a hearing on the injunction on Wednesday.

The first such strike in 25 years has cancelled classes for 350,000 kindergarten, elementary and high school students in the midwestern city.

Education reforms

Teachers began protesting last week against sweeping education reforms sought by Emanuel, especially evaluating teachers based on the standardised test scores of their students.

They also fear a wave of neighbourhood school closings that could result in mass teacher layoffs. They want a guarantee that laid-off teachers will be recalled for other jobs in the district.

The showdown left in doubt a deal on wages, benefits and education reforms for 29,000 unionised teachers that negotiators had hoped would end the biggest labour dispute in the US in a year.

Union delegates will reconvene on Tuesday to discuss the feedback from members, Karen Lewis, union president, said, adding that parents should plan for their children to be out of school until at least Wednesday.

Before the meeting of delegates on Sunday, Lewis had called the agreement a “good contract”. But after the decision to extend the strike she backtracked, saying: “This is not a good deal. This is the deal we got.”

David Vitale, Emanuel’s chief negotiator and school board president, said the union should allow children to go back to school while the two sides complete the process.

“We are extremely disappointed that after 10 months of discussion reaching an honest and fair compromise that they decided to continue their strike of choice and keep our children out of the classroom,” Vitale said.

An Emanuel overreach?

During the first week of the strike, opinion polls showed parents and Chicago voters backing the union, with some parents and students joining boisterous rallies. A key question is who the public will support now that the strike is dragging on.

Former Chicago city council member Dick Simpson said Emanuel may have made a mistake by going to court to block the strike. 

“If I were advising the mayor, I would have advised him to be patient for a couple of days,” said Simpson, a political science professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

By waiting, Emanuel could have put the onus on the teachers if they rejected the contract later this week, Simpson said.

Both sides appeared to win some concessions, according to details of the tentative agreement released by the parties.

Emanuel compromised on the design of the first update of the evaluation system for Chicago teachers in 40 years. He agreed to phase in the new plan over several years and reduced the weighting of standardised test results in reviewing teachers.

Teachers won some job-security protections and prevented the introduction of merit pay in their contract.

The agreement calls for a 3 per cent pay raise for teachers this year and 2 per cent in each of the next two years. If the
agreement is extended for an optional fourth year, teachers get a 3 per cent increase.

Chicago union teachers make an average of about $76,000 annually. The deal could worsen the Chicago Public Schools financial crisis. Emanuel said the contract will cost $295m over four years, or $74m per year.

Source : Al Jazeera, News Agencies


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