The surprise rejection by Chicago teacher-union delegates of the contract their leaders approved left the city’s school strike entering a second week and Mayor Rahm Emanuel going to court.
Lawyers for the mayor of the third-largest U.S. city sought a temporary restraining order in state court today to force educators back into classrooms after their union declined to suspend Chicago’s first public-school strike in a quarter century. Their decision means 350,000 students will be out of class for at least a sixth day.
The city’s request for a preliminary injunction said the strike was illegal because state law bars the Chicago Teachers Union from striking over noneconomic issues such as dismissal and recall policies. It also said the walkout amounted to a “clear and present danger to public health” by preventing some students from getting meals they wouldn’t otherwise receive.
“I will not stand by while the children of Chicago are played as pawns in an internal dispute within a union,” Emanuel said in a statement last night, asserting that the walkout that began Sept. 10 was illegal because it’s over issues that state law deems “nonstrikable.”
Two days after Karen Lewis, president of the 30,000-member Chicago Teachers Union, expressed hope that classes would resume today, the organization’s House of Delegates voted to continue the walkout while it studied the proposed employment contract from the school board that Emanuel controls.
“Write the word ‘trust’ in big, giant letters, because that’s what the problem is,” Lewis said, adding that “a clear majority” of the more than 800 delegates didn’t want to return to work after reading contract language hammered out between union lawyers and the Chicago Public Schools.
“There’s no trust, for our members, of the board,” Lewis said at a news conference yesterday.
The delegates won’t meet again until tomorrow. Barring an order reopening schools, the earliest classes could resume is the following day, Lewis said.
The decision by the union’s delegates, a body that has the exclusive authority to cease or extend a strike, was a jolting development after Lewis said Sept. 14 that she was “very comfortable” with the terms of a teacher-evaluation procedure that was a key point of contention. She said the language probably would “assuage” the concerns of union members.
The delegates thought otherwise, and Lewis backtracked after the meeting yesterday at a south side union hall.
“This is not a good deal by any stretch of the imagination,” she said.
Chicago Public Schools issued details of the contract about 90 minutes before the delegates voted. The proposed three-year contract with an option for a fourth states that “student growth” will account for 25 percent of a teacher’s evaluation in the first two years of the pact, and 30 percent in the third.
A “student survey will be piloted” in the second year and would contribute to 10 percent of the teacher evaluation, the school system said. The contract would provide a 16 percent pay increase over the four years.
The contract carries a price tag of about $74 million for each year, for a total of $295 million over four years. The district faces a 2013 budget deficit of $1 billion.
The strike has been the most public show of resistance to Emanuel since the former chief of staff to Democratic President Barack Obama took office 16 months ago with a pledge to restructure the city’s operations. Lowering labor costs is central to Emanuel’s initiatives.
The teachers struck for the first time in 25 years after negotiating with the mayor since November over his efforts to lengthen the school day and year, as well as his school board’s decision to cancel a 4 percent pay increase. In 1987, union members walked out for four weeks.
The school day was extended this year to 7 hours from 5 hours and 45 minutes at elementary schools, and to 7 1/2 hours from 7 hours at most high schools. The school year was lengthened to 180 days, from 170, which had been one of the country’s shortest.
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