The week that was in Illinois politics and government (September 10-15).
Chicago and Cook County News
On Monday morning the Chicago Teachers Union went on strike for the first time since 1987, affecting 26,500 teachers and 350,000 students and drawing national attention to the longtime acrimony between CTU and Chicago Public Schools management.
There were no classes for CPS students the entire week.
But by Friday afternoon the skeleton of an agreement was reached between the district and the union. The CTU House of Delegates is anticipated to vote on a tentative contract Sunday afternoon.
Thousands of teachers descended on downtown Chicago Monday in a massive sea of red. And on Monday morning CTU members took to the picket lines and articulated that the strike is not about money, but a variety of issues from the lack of social workers to no air conditioning in classrooms. On Friday, the union furthered this position, releasing a video that shows deteriorating conditions in the schools.
PI spoke to a number of teachers Thursday who voiced displeasure on issues from the flaws in the system’s special education program to what they viewed as a “top-down” management style. Teacher’s Wednesday spoke about classroom overcrowding and fear that CPS might close 80 to 120 schools after the strike is settled.
CTU said Wednesday that they have heard this closing rumor for months – which is why they would like to get as many issues as possible settled before members approve a new contract.
Ald. Roderick Sawyer (6th) also weighed in on some of these teaching conditions issues in an op-ed for PI.
Emanuel, though, insists that the strike is not about these teaching conditions. It is, instead, about two unsolved collective bargaining matters: The composition of a new teacher evaluation system and recall rights for recently laid off teachers, which the mayor framed as an issue of empowering principals to hire whom they please.
“Everything here is down to two final issues,” the mayor said at a press conference Monday. “It's not air conditioning, OK. It's 71 degrees outside. It’s not air conditioning. We don't go on strike for air conditioning.”
Negotiations between CTU and CPS are not open to the public so known developments have come in the form of post-negotiation pronouncements. CTU President Karen Lewis said after Monday and Tuesday that the district and union were far apart, contradicting David Vitale, the school board president, who said the two sides were close to a deal.
CTU even claimed that the board was misrepresenting their position and the state of negotiations Tuesday.
But Lewis changed her tune Wednesday saying that progress had been made on such issues as teacher evaluations. It looked like a deal was close to being reached as soon as Thursday, but now the strike will at least continue until Sunday.
With the strike ongoing, CTU will hold a rally Saturday at Union Park. Check back with Progress Illinois for coverage of that event.
CPS responded to the strike by opening 147 schools and 59 churches as strike contingency sites for non-instructional activities, including serving breakfast and lunch. It was reported throughout the week that attendance was low at these sites.
Part of the reason was that parents were perhaps apprehensive about crossing the picket line. CPS head Jean-Claude Brizard urged Lewis to not have picketers outside the contingency sites.
The Chicago Transit Authority is providing CPS students free rides during the strike.
Labor and community advocates were out in full force throughout the week, including at a press conference Tuesday where the Chicago Federation of Labor and other state unions expressed their support for CPS.
SEIU* Local 1 janitors who work at the strike contingency sites have shown their support by wearing red, joining picket lines, and, in some instances, not working.
A protest Thursday targeted the city’s Tax Increment Finance program for which property tax dollars are siphoned away from CPS for economic development projects that are largely the choosing of Emanuel.
We reported Monday that community groups allied with CTU have tried to use the strike as a referendum on both education policy and social inequality in Chicago.
We covered a forum in Waukegan Wednesday that specifically looked at how unions have historically helped women.
CTU was not the only teachers union that went on strike this week. About 150 teachers from Lake Forest High School district 115 went on strike Wednesday and the situation was unresolved as of Friday evening.
Springfield has played a major role in the teachers strike. We looked Thursday how state education reform laws, particularly SB7, set in motion the climate for a CPS-CTU labor dispute.
PI looked at a new study released by the Woodstock Institute that found more than half of Illinois’ private sector employees do not have access to a retirement savings plan through their jobs.
Time is ticking for the 170 workers set to lose their jobs to outsourcing by Bain Capital-owned Sensata Technologies, which manufactures and develops sensors and controls for airplanes, automobiles and motors. We reported that workers are now camping outside of the company’s Freeport factory.
Illinois now has the highest foreclosure rate in the nation, according to Realty Trac.
In Illinois, about 1.8 million, or 14 percent, of all residents live in poverty, according to statistics released Wednesday by the U.S. Census Bureau.
The teachers strike entered into the presidential election with Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney condemning the walkout and saying that he is behind Emanuel, the Democratic mayor.
President Barack Obama, meanwhile, has stayed silent, perhaps not wanting to offend either noted Democratic fundraiser Emanuel or his union supporters.
PI looked Tuesday at how the strike also puts Obama’s policies to the test, particularly his Race to the Top federal education grant program.
We examined further Friday the national implications of the strike on both education policies and how elected officials treat public employees.
U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Chicago) left the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota on Friday and returned to his family in Washington, D.C. Jackson is not expected back at work immediately as Congress returned to session this week.
Check back wih Progress Illinois for ongoing coverage of CTU strike throughout the weekend.