Chicago Teachers Union Conflict Far from Resolved

Although a preliminary compromise over the extension of the school day has been reached, union membership is prepared to strike if its other demands aren’t met.

The compromise between the teachers union and Chicago Public Schools over the extension of the school day is not sitting as well the with the union majority as was hoped. This last Wednesday, the union’s House of Delegates debated giving the Union President the complete power to call for a ten-day walkout at any time and without notice. Union President Karen Lewis said that the move should be taken as the expression of frustration by the membership over the pace and the direction of the talks between union representatives and the Chicago Public Schools officials.

Although a deal over the longer school day was achieved last week, the membership feels like the union was made to concede too much in the final agreement. Lewis said that two sides remain “far apart” on the issue of the longer day.

Contrary to the expectation that even a barebones agreement between the two sides would quiet the talks about an industrial action by the union, union officials recently talked to members and delegates about a strike to be called imminently. The strike vote that will be held at the next union meeting will be largely symbolic, aimed mainly at taking the temperature of the membership rather than kicking off industrial action. In reality, the union members have already given the board unilateral permission over when, or even if, the strike is called.

Currently open-meetings are being held for CPS 6th-grade staff to canvass their views on how a longer school day could be made to work. They are required to return with a plan to implement it August 30th.

At its meeting earlier Wednesday, the school board approved a strike contingency plan that would kick in if a 10-day walkout notice is filed. The plan provides up to $25 million for “supervised shelter, meals and other limited non-instructional services” to students. The district would likely use Park District facilities, libraries and churches as part of the plan. The majority of schools open Sept. 4.

Board President David Vitle said that contrary to the posturing of the union membership, members themselves aren’t eager to strike, but he feels that the time is growing closer that would make a strike a necessity. The district’s recent budget moves seem to indicate that they’re upping their preparedness level, draining dues money and cash reserves in order to make sure the union is in position to pay the salary of member who choose to strike.

“One of the things we’re hearing is the way the interim agreement is being implemented is a real problem,” he said.

Edie Smith, a first-grade teacher at Mason Math & Science Academy in Lawndale, said that at her school, the longer day has meant having children on recess without sufficient supervision.

“If you’re a building and Hurricane Isaac is coming and no one boarded the windows, that’s how it feels.” Smith said.

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