Chicago Teachers, Labor Unions Join for One Day Strike Action

(Photo: Brian Jackson, Sun-Times)

(Photo: Brian Jackson, Sun-Times)

What Chicago Public Schools teachers called a “Day of Action” took place as planned on Friday while morning classes were canceled and picket lines were formed. After the teachers gathered in front of their schools, they marched and chanted their way to college campuses while raising signs and playing instruments.

Both college and public school educators were protesting budget cuts, a lack of state funding, and the contract negotiation impasse between the union and CPS, with 45 community groups and the Service Employees International Union joining the Day of Action. This type of solidarity is rare in the US, and the union’s broad movement for increased revenue is what Nika Knight of CommonDreams called “uncharted territory.”

Demonstrators, including college students and Chicago’s youthful activists, stood alongside Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis, Rev. Jesse Jackson, teachers, and community organization supporters to press for funding from the state for Chicago State University on the Far South Side. Currently, CS University is in the midst of a financial emergency and is expectied to be forced to lay off employees.

“This is a day that Chicago State’s budget is in jeopardy, but the Cook County jail budget is secure,” Jackson said. “They plan to lock up and not to lift up, because somebody knows that strong minds break strong chains. We will not let them break our sprits,” Jackson said. “This school will not be closed. The governor may go, but Chicago State will stay.”

At Northeastern Illinois University, a New Orleans-type funeral parade was staged with mourners carrying a skeleton, tombstone signs, and a coffin representing the death of higher education.

Natalia Rokita, a student at Northeastern Illinois, is facing twice the frustration this situation produces because her son goes to kindergarten at Farnsworth Elementary in Jefferson Park. She noted that she is shocked that people do not want to support public education financially, report Juan Perez, Jr., Marwa Eltagouri, Leonor Vivanco, and Jeane Kuang of the Chicago Tribune.

Rokita continued by pointing out that people rely on public education, particularly in Chicago and the state of Illinois. She picketed on her campus in support of her learning and her son’s education.

Gov. Bruce Rauner stated that it was shameful to make Chicago’s children the victims in this political power play. Walking out on children, causing parents to be left helpless, and disrespecting taxpayers, he said, were arrogant actions taken by those who held children’s futures in their hands.

Meanwhile, Rauner and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel remained involved in a broader conflict over state financial assistance for Chicago, during which Rauner called on Emanuel to help him convince lawmakers to approve his “pro-business, union-weakening” plan.

But CPS filed charges against the union because the district believed the one-day strike to be illegal, report Nancy Loo, Andrea Darlas, and Judy Wang for the Associated Press.

The charges were filed with the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board based on the idea that the CTU strike does not follow the state law as it applies to teachers’ strikes. CPS seeks unspecified damages along with an order to prohibit any strikes in the future that are not within the boundaries of state law.

Forrest Claypool, the CPS chief executive officer, said the district will require a “permanent, pre-emptive injunction” against these kinds of strikes in the future. CTU responded that they would like CPS to join them in fighting for more funding for schools. They said they had broken no state laws and called this a “one- day job action” that would not happen again.

CBS News and the Associated Press report that 400,000 students were affected by the strike, but had the option of spending the day at one of the 250 “contingency sites” set up by CPS at libraries, churches, and school buildings.

Although state laws say this cannot take place until several weeks have passed, a longer strike could occur over a new labor contract. In 2012, the Chicago Teachers Union went on strike for over a week. The contract agreed upon after that contract expired in June, and the two sides continue negotiating to determine a new contract.

Illinois is in its tenth month of not having an approved state budget.