Despite Progress in Chicago Talks, Union Members Protest

Union members turned out before the scheduled school board meeting to protest the slow pace of the contract talks.

The recent announcement of a limited compromise between the Chicago Public Schools officials and the negotiating team representing the Chicago Teachers Union on the issues dealing with the new contract for the city’s teachers didn’t stop at least 100 union members from showing up before a recent meeting of the school board to protest the slow pace of the negotiations. Members, who were carrying sign, and wearing red t-shirts with union logos, marched in front of the building housing the CPS headquarters chanting slogans.

Among the issues raised by the protesters was the fact that the union and CPS have yet to make progress on several key issues that must be resolved before the new contract could be finalized. Among the most contentious is the union demand that the CPS make more money available to fund school improvement, teacher salaries and programs in art, music and physical education.

Addressing the crowd, Chicago Teachers Union Vice President Jesse Sharkey credited the “street movement” with helping to give the union momentum during lengthy and heated contract talks.

“We have fought back with widespread vocal opposition. We have occupied schools, we have marched, we have spoken out, we have filled auditoriums and, yes, we have authorized a strike vote,” Sharkey yelled above the roar of the crowd. “(The board) can no longer bulldoze us, so now they want to talk to us.”

The large turnout for the protest is surprising in light of the recent announcement by Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and CTA leaders that in exchange for the city’s commitment to rehire up to 500 recently laid-off teachers, the union agreed to one of Emanuel’s legislative priorities: a lengthened school day. The increase in the number of teachers allows the schools to offer a lot more teaching time to the students without significantly expanding the workday for their instructors.

Compared to the goings-on prior to the beginning of the meeting, the business taken up after its commencement seemed a bit anti-climactic. Current school board president David Vitale was elected to keep his office for another year and Jesse Ruiz was confirmed in his post of Vice President. Although the school board has now moved on from the system where all members were appointed by the Mayor, the compromise of having the board elect its own leaders didn’t go far enough according to the union members and community groups that have been lobbying for the change.

During Wednesday’s demonstration by union supporters, a crowd of about 100 charter school backers carried their own signs nearby. That group and the union teachers traded insults across Clark Street. Union teachers chanted, “We teach all kids,” aimed at charter schools’ reputation for removing poorly performing students or those with discipline problems.

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