The Chicago Teachers Union, with support from other public employee unions, held a Labor Day rally in the Loop this week, drawing thousands of supporters to an event that turned into a protest march around City Hall. David Roeder and Fran Spielman, writing for the Chicago Sun-Times, report that teachers chanted labor slogans, waved placards and cheered several speakers.
One of those speakers was CTU President Karen Lewis, who took the opportunity to tear into Mayor Rahm Emanuel by calling him a liar and a bully. Lewis repeated again the claim, which Emanuel denies, that the Mayor has previously said the lowest scoring quarter of students were unworthy of educational support and the money should instead be targeted at those with more potential.
"On the name-calling, this is not about Rahm Emanuel or Karen Lewis," said Emanuel spokeswoman Sarah Hamilton. "It's about the kids of the city of Chicago and ensuring they have a full school day and year."
As for the teacher talks, Hamilton said, "They're making progress. They met all weekend. They have meetings scheduled all week. The right people are at the table to reach an agreement that will keep our kids in school learning and that is fair to the teachers."
The CTU claimed a crowd of 18,000 for the rally, while other estimates were closer to 10,000. When the rally took to the streets, police took the precaution of blocking off traffic. Teachers at the rally expressed disappointment that the media was representing their fight as being one mainly about salary concerns; they see it as being a fight for the future of public education and stronger neighborhoods.
Teachers in the crowd said the school system is treating them with disrespect and, in its drive to cut expenses, refuses to spend on needed facilities such as libraries and lunchrooms. "All the parents have told me that they support a strike. They realize it's about the kids," said Tiera Robinson, who teaches preschool special education at Hughes Elementary School.
On Monday, September 10 more than 26,000 teachers and other school workers are scheduled to walk out on their jobs, with the strike disrupting the second week of schools for 400,000 Chicago public schoolchildren.
While there is a possibility that the strike date may be pushed back, CTU Vice President Jesse Sharkey said that was unlikely considering that weekend negotiations had barely touched upon the main points of contention, instead only resolving minor points.
Chicago Public School CEO Jean-Claude Brizard has refused to comment on the situation beyond saying that people are working hard to achieve a resolution and that with academic indicators in the city finally pointing upwards, Chicago's children can't afford to miss a single day of school.