Chicago Teachers Turned Down 16% Pay Raise to Launch Strike

Tuesday, 11 Sep 2012 11:20 AM

By Martin Gould

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President Barack Obama has found himself caught between a rock and a hard place following Chicago teachers’ decision to strike rather than accept a 16-percent pay raise.

While Republican leaders have come out in support of the city’s decision not to back down to the teachers’ demands, Obama has had to weigh the political implications of upsetting the union base in his hometown.

And that has given Republicans an opening to attack the president in a dispute that has resulted in more than 350,000 children missing school.

The GOP is taking delight in supporting one of Obama’s closest political allies, Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel, his former White House chief of staff — while the president stays on the sidelines.

“On this issue, and this day, we stand with Mayor Emanuel,” said GOP vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan.

"We stand with the children and we stand with the families and the parents of Chicago because education reform, that's a bipartisan issue,” added Ryan during a campaign stopover in Oregon.

“Where does President Obama stand?” Ryan asked. “Does he stand with his former Chief of Staff Mayor Rahm Emanuel, with the children and the parents, or does he stand with the union?"

Mitt Romney said Obama has “chosen his side in this fight,” while other leading Republicans went further.

"Yet again, President Obama is allowing special interests to put their agenda ahead of serving our nation's students," Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell said. "This is Chicago-style politics at its worst.”

The 26,000 members of the Chicago Teachers Union walked out on Monday. They had previously voted overwhelmingly to authorize the strike if talks broke down. As well as their pay and benefits battle they also want to draw attention to what the union calls an attack on public schooling by corporate privatizers.

They are also calling for smaller class sizes and for authorities to place less importance on standardized testing and for a greater emphasis on arts, music and gym.

The Chicago School District — which faces a $667 million deficit this year — offered 16 percent over four years.

Obama’s spokesman Ben LaBolt, refused to come out on one side or the other. "Playing political games with local disputes won't help educate our kids, nor will fewer teachers," he said.

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney was equally vague on where his boss stands. “His principal concern is for the students and families who are affected by the situation and we hope that both sides are able to come together to settle this quickly and in the best interest of Chicago's students,” Carney said.

Republicans have been quick to exploit Obama’s silence on the issue. Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty said Obama "has sent a clear message that the hundreds of thousands of children who are suffering because of this strike take a backseat to his political allies.”

On Twitter, Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus pointed out the absurdity of Obama’s positions, where he felt free to comment on singer Nicky Minaj’s lyrics, but not on an issue affecting the education of hundreds of thousands of American children.

Emanuel has also found himself in a difficult position as he gains support from his political opponents. He called Romney’s support “lip service,” adding “I don't give two hoots about national comments scoring political points or trying to embarrass -- or whatever -- the president."

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