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Chicago teachers strike may drag on; negotiations gridlocked

September 10, 2012|By Matt Pearce

Chicago public school teachers flooded the city’s downtown Loop on Monday as a strike over stalled labor negotiations threatened to stretch longer than some people had expected.

Teachers wearing red shirts and carrying "ON STRIKE" placards protested against the Chicago Public Schools as the city's administrators and the teachers union failed to come to terms over pay and other issues. Negotiations remained gridlocked as of Monday evening.

Some parents struggled to cope with the sudden shutdown despite the district’s contingency plans to keep schools open to at least host Chicago students.

PHOTOS: Chicago teachers strike

“I might be losing my job over this,” Martina Watts, 38, told the Chicago Sun-Times, explaining that she couldn’t show up to her job as a temporary machinist because she had to pick up her kids from the schools, which released early at 12:30 p.m. “As long as they’re on strike, I can’t work, either. I’m not getting paid, either.”

The Chicago strike is one of the nation’s most dramatic in recent years and the first in 25 years for Chicago teachers, who voted overwhelmingly to support the action.

The strike is more than just a local issue for many involved with education. Labor watchers see a strike in the nation’s third-largest school district, which has more than 400,000 students, as a line-in-the-sand moment for teachers unions opposed to nationwide reforms that aim to tie teacher pay to student performance rather than experience.

The district has been holding firm on its wishes to include student test scores as part of teacher evaluations. The union hopes to preserve the traditional pay-for-experience model.

Democratic Mayor Rahm Emanuel told Bloomberg News that the district was ready to offer a 16% raise over four years after taking away a 4% raise from teachers last year. The union originally wanted a 29% increase over two years, citing school days that Emanuel has lengthened by 90 minutes. The district has reportedly been offering 2% annual cost-of-living increases in return.

Many union members also cited what they see as the mayor’s brusque attitude toward them as a major factor motivating them to get out of the classrooms and into the streets. “Rahm knows how to turn out the base,” retired teacher delegate Miriam Socoloff told In These Times, tongue firmly in cheek.

That base, an increasingly problematic bedrock for Democrats in recent years, began to get a taste of its power in the Loop on Monday afternoon as demonstrators converged on Chicago Public Schools headquarters and began spilling into the streets.

“This is an amazing display of democracy," Rick Sawicki, a seventh-grade teacher at Evergreen Middle School, told the Chicago Tribune. "It is a wonderful lesson for children and adults alike. I'm honored that we are all sticking together. We all want what is fair. We want to make sure everyone is treated fairly, just like I teach my children."

Many city leaders condemned both sides for allowing a strike to happen in one of the nation’s most troubled major cities, which has suffered a tough crime wave this summer.

"It's a national embarrassment in the middle of a national campaign," New Mount Pilgrim Church pastor Marshall Hatch told the Tribune; many churches around the city opened their doors as safe havens for students shut out of their schools. "This is the last city in America that needed [a strike]."

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nation@latimes.com

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