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Need to know: CPS on strike

  • CHICAGO, IL - SEPTEMBER 10: Chicago school teachers picket outside Wells High School on September 10, 2012 in Chicago, Illinois. More than 26,000 teachers and support staff hit the picket lines this morning after the Chicago Teachers Union failed to reach an agreement with the city on compensation, benefits and job security. With about 350,000 students, the Chicago school district is the third largest in the United States. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images) ORG XMIT: 151792465
CHICAGO, IL - SEPTEMBER 10: Chicago school teachers picket outside Wells… (Scott Olson )
September 10, 2012|Mick Swasko, @mickswasko | RedEye

For the first time in 25 years, Chicago’s teachers have walked out of the classroom to strike. If you happened to catch a glimpse of sign-wielding crowds outside your CTA window this morning, or wondered why your Facebook feed was flooded with teacher friends posing on the picket line, you might be wondering just exactly what’s going on. Here’s some quick info to get you up to speed.

So, what happened? Why are the teachers striking?

The strike comes after the Chicago Teachers Union, the group representing 25,000 Chicago Public Schools teachers, failed to reach a contract agreement with Chicago’s school board. The two groups have been negotiating since November on a new contract, and failed to reach an agreement before a Midnight deadline Sunday. A strike was authorized by the union in June, with 90 percent of members voting in favor of a picket.  

What are they arguing about exactly?

There are a number of points of contention, ranging from benefits to salaries. Things boil down to three key issues. For one, the sides have not been able to agree upon the amount of a pay bump that goes into effect for the contract’s first year. The CTU is also fighting on job security issues, asking for a system where laid off teachers would be recalled if new jobs open up in the district. Finally, the CTU wants student performance in the classroom to reflect less on the teacher when it comes time for an evaluation process.

How ugly is it?

CTU President Karen Lewis called Mayor Rahm Emanuel a “bully” and a “liar” during a big Labor Day rally last week. The Tribune reported sending Rahm to the bargaining table to reach an agreement wasn’t going to fly, citing “bad blood” between him and Lewis.

What about the kids? Is it just like an extended summer vacation?

It depends. CPS has implemented a backup plan of sorts called “Children First,” which is focused on parents who cannot provide meals and child care during the school year. The district will keep 144 schools open, which will serve breakfast and lunch to students and provide activities to an estimated 150,000 expected to take part in the program. Additionally, many churches and community organizations are extending the hours of after-school programs to accommodate students.

However, since no traditional instruction is allowed during the strike because of state law, many of the activities will be independent reading or writing. It’s not an extended vacation for students, either. Missed days will have to be made up with shortened school day breaks or extra days at the end of the year.

All right, how long could the strike last?

It’s difficult to tell. On Monday, the Tribune reported CTU President Karen Lewis said the sides were “close” on an agreement about pay, but the union remained concerned about other issues. The last strike was in 1987, and lasted 19 days.

Source: Chicago Tribune

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