The Chicago Teachers Union held a rally at the Auditorium Theatre on Wednesday. The teachers and sympathizers marched east along Jackson Boulevard in protest against low salaries, increasing class sizes and the lengthening of the school day planned for implementation this fall.
One history teacher, Dolly Taval, said that the march was about solidarity and support for fellow teachers faced with Mayor Emanuel's reform plans:
"We're hoping that maybe Mr. Rahm Emanuel will get the picture and that he has to support our schools," she said. "It's important that the government gives the teachers the respect that they deserve."
The CTU had held a press conference on the day before the rally where they outlined their demands for the city government. Of particular concern is the longer school days when the average working week for a teacher already approaches 60 hrs per week. The unions are demanding a 30% pay rise across the board for teaching staff but this is a long way from the 2% pay rise currently being offered by the city.
It has been reported that 80% of CTU members recently voted to reject the current proposed teacher contract. This number is significant due to new rules which require the agreement of at least 75% of union membership before strike action can be taken. With the two sides still so far away from each and neither seeming likely to give ground an eventual strike seems almost inevitable, despite talks still officially being in the third-party fact finder stage.
CTU Vice President Jessse Sharkey believes that CPS is making a big mistake with their proposed spending cuts and that many schools desperately need well targeted investment.
"The board recently announced an 85 percent cut in capital spending, and that happens at the same time that we have schools without playgrounds, that we have schools that are scheduled to meet this summer with no air conditioning, that we have 160 schools without libraries. We feel there is an insufficient plan for that,"
Also of concern to CTU members is the expansion of Chicago Public Schools charter school program which will see another 60 charter schools open in the next five years. On completion of this expansion charter schools will account for 25% of the schools in the district.
The third-party group currently trying to engineer an impossible seeming compromise between the two sides is due to deliver their report in the summer. Currently the teachers are operating under a contract due to expire June 30th. If the union is successful in calling a strike, it will be their first strike action since 1987.