The Chicago public school teachers’ union (C.T.U.) voted overwhelmingly in mid-December to go on strike. The issues include compensation, teacher evaluations and layoffs. Before a strike, the union and school officials are mandated to attempt mediation. The actual strike would not begin until spring 2016.
The teachers last went on strike in 2012. And that time, according to the journalist Micah Uetricht, the union got what it was asking for, a rare major victory for organized labor. But the contract they signed in 2012 ran out last June, and negotiations since then have failed to produce a new agreement. According to the C.T.U.’s vice president, Jesse Sharkey, the union is asking for improved teaching and learning conditions with less standardized testing and less compliance paperwork, adequate staffing for both teachers and other professionals like librarians and nurses, and help from the administration with social problems that spill over into the schools. The last demand reflects the problem with violence that infects many Chicago neighborhoods.
The school situation requires the deep involvement of Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who is also under pressure to restore fractured relations between the community and the Chicago police. It requires commitment by the school board, the determination of the union to avoid a strike and the cooperation of the wider civic community, which has a profound interest in the quality of schools. The almost 400,000 students in the Chicago public schools do not need a strike. They need to learn, to grow, to hope. They need the adult community of Chicago to get behind them and to give them every chance to take their own turn some day in leading their city.